UNLV got back to defense, and as a result, got back into the AP Top 25.
The 21st-ranked Runnin’ Rebels defend that new ranking Monday night when they host Louisiana-Monroe.
An 8-0 start highlighted by a 90-80 victory over then-No. 1 North Carolina on Nov. 26 pushed UNLV (11-2) to 18th in the rankings before an 89-70 defeat at Wichita State dropped it from the Top 25. Although the Rebels also lost 62-51 at then-No. 14 Wisconsin on Dec. 10, they have limited opponents to 53.5 points per game in their last four contests - well below their season average of 64.3.
That commitment to defense was evident Saturday at the United Center in Chicago, where they limited previously 19th-ranked and undefeated Illinois to 25.4 percent shooting and 16 field goals in a 64-48 victory. It was the lowest shooting percentage by an opponent since UNLV held UC Riverside to 22.4 percent Nov. 12, 2010.
“I definitely could sense their frustration. They got stagnant,” said UNLV forward Mike Moser, who had 17 points and 11 rebounds. “We knew just about everything they were about to do. We were able to switch for every move they had. They just couldn’t do much against us.”
Having Moser back in sync was key for the Rebels. The 6-foot-8 sophomore transfer from UCLA had totaled just 16 points on 8-of-23 shooting in his previous three games.
“So much of Mike’s success comes from his energy,” first-year coach Dave Rice said. “For whatever reason, his energy was a little bit down the last couple of weeks. He’d complained a little bit the last couple of games about not having any legs. … He was very good (Saturday).”
Moser is averaging team highs of 14.2 points and 12.2 rebounds while posting six double-doubles for UNLV.
Despite winning their last two games, the Rebels have not done a good job of moving the basketball. They average 17.4 assists but have totaled 22 in those two victories.
UNLV should be able to address those issues against Louisiana-Monroe (1-10). The Warhawks have dropped four straight since beating Nicholls State on Nov. 28, and are coming off a 76-63 home loss to Northwestern State on Thursday.
Steven McClellan had 10 points and nine rebounds off the bench for Louisiana-Monroe, which allowed the Demons to make 13 3-pointers. Perimeter defense has been a sore spot for the Warhawks, who have allowed at least eight 3-pointers in eight games while letting opponents shoot 37.9 percent from beyond the arc.
McClellan, who originally planned to redshirt this season, likely will be matched up against Moser. The 6-foot-7 sophomore is averaging 6.8 points and 7.3 rebounds in four games since being pressed into action despite not playing more than 21 minutes in any contest and fouling out three times.
The Warhawks have lost 16 straight games to ranked opponents since the start of the 1996-97 season and have lost games to then-No. 24 Mississippi State and then-No. 22 Texas A&M this season by a combined 28 points.
The Rebels won the only previous meeting between the schools, a 74-51 rout in the first round of the 1986 NCAA tournament.