Utah to guard home floor from Rebels

By Marco Villano, Staff Writer

This weekend, the Runnin’ Utes will try to do what their southern rival could not8212;protect their home floor against the UNLV Rebels.

UNLV is two days removed from snapping BYU’s 25-game home winning streak against Mountain West Conference opponents. “UNLV is back,” said Utes guard Carlon Brown. “They lost to TCU and Colorado State, two opponents that they normally wouldn’t lose to, but they came back, beat Wyoming at home and now they are on the road.”

In their fifth conference game of the season, the 3-1 Utes face a UNLV team that beat BYU 76-70 in Provo, snapping the Cougars’ aforementioned streak.

UNLV came back from a 13-point halftime deficit, holding a typically good-shooting BYU team to five points for the first nine minutes of the second half on 25 percent shooting.

“In the second half, they shut down the easy points and (BYU) just didn’t get any second chance points,” said Utes center Luke Nevill. “(UNLV) just wanted it more at the end.”

The road trip into Utah is known as one of the toughest road trips in the conference, and UNLV has already started its trip in a way no team has been able to do in nearly three years. Beating Utah would put the Rebels right back in the MWC race after they dropped two of their first three conference matchups.

Utah and UNLV bring similar momentum into Saturday’s game, as both are riding two-game winning streaks.

By now, each team knows what the other brings into the matchup. In the past, UNLV’s smaller, outside-shooting approach has gotten the better of Utah’s reliance on Nevill in the post. UNLV head coach Lon Kruger’s group won the overall series 2-1, with the deciding game coming in the MWC Tournament.

As the case has been all season, the Utes will be going up against a perimeter shooting team, forcing Nevill to move away from the hoop, limiting his ability to use his 7-foot-2-inch frame to clog up the middle. The Utes have been better at defending the perimeter this season and are holding their opponents to 35 percent from the 3-point line.

“Historically, since I’ve been here, the games (with UNLV) have come down to 3-point shooting,” said Utah head coach Jim Boylen. “We beat them here last year, made 3s, spaced them pretty well and made shots.”

Boylen said this matchup will center around Nevill. The Rebels will try to take advantage of their speed against him when UNLV has the ball.

Rebounding and turnovers have been the deciding factor in the six games the Utes have lost this season. The Utes are 3-3 when allowing their opponent to outrebound them. In the 18 games they’ve played, the Utes have turned the ball over more than their opponent 14 times, accumulating 13.6 turnovers per game.

“Those two things have hurt us this year8212;turning the ball over and giving up late-game offensive rebounds,” Boylen said. “So we have to get better at those things.”

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Thien Sok

Utah and UNLV both riding two-game winning streaks Tyler Kepkay looks to tip the balance in the Ute?s favor with intense play.