Now that the games count, UNLV knows it can't afford to take anything, or any opponent, for granted.
The No. 18 Runnin' Rebels hope to build on a strong showing in their season opener when they face undefeated Jacksonville State on Saturday night as part of the Global Sports Classic in Las Vegas.
With two of its top three scorers back from last season's 26-9 team, plus a pair of highly touted freshmen and a talented transfer in the mix, UNLV earned its first preseason ranking since 1992. However, the Rebels needed overtime to post an 81-80 victory over Division II Dixie State in their lone exhibition contest.
UNLV likely proved Monday that it's worthy of the ranking by dominating from the start in a 92-54 win over Northern Arizona. Freshman Anthony Bennett had 22 points and Southern California-transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones added 15 off the bench as the Rebels jumped out to a 21-7 lead and shot 50.0 percent (33 of 66) en route to scoring their most points in a season opener since a 108-73 win over Long Beach State in 2005.
"This is a group that will play with a chip on its shoulders,'' said Rebels coach Dave Rice, who felt his team got too careless and lost focus in the second half against Dixie State. "I was pleased with the improvement from our exhibition game.''
Rice was especially happy to see his team succeed while senior forward Mike Moser struggled offensively. Moser, who pulled down 11 rebounds, averaged a team-leading 14.0 points last season but managed two while shooting 1 of 6 from the field and missing all four of his 3-point attempts. The 6-foot-8 Canadian Bennett picked up the slack, making nine of 13 shots. He scored nine consecutive points in the first 5 minutes.
"Anthony works hard, and nobody has bigger expectations of Anthony than he does himself,'' Rice said. "I think he got off to a good start (to the season)."
Fellow freshman Katin Reinhardt and senior Anthony Marshall each added 14 points and combined for 10 assists. The Rebels held North Arizona to 25.0 percent shooting (15 of 60) and owned a 51-29 advantage on the glass.
"We are just trying to get better from possession to possession, half to half, game to game," Rice told UNLV's official website.
Rice hopes the Rebels can maintain that attitude as they try for their 20th straight regular-season victory at the Thomas & Mack Center in their first meeting with Jacksonville State (3-0). The Gamecocks are off to their best start since the school became a Division I program in 1995-96.
Ronnie Boggs and Tarvin Gaines each scored 15 points in Thursday's 79-61 win over Alabama A&M. At 12.0 points per game, Boggs leads a group of four Jacksonville State players averaging at least 11.0 points.
UNLV will continue play in the Global Sports Classic against Oregon on Nov. 23, and either No. 24 Cincinnati or Iowa State on Nov. 24.