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Rebels’ healthy Dejean-Jones ready to move forward

It took about a week for Bryce Dejean-Jones to overcome a hamstring injury. The junior guard plans on UNLV making an even quicker recovery from its latest setback.

Two days after the Rebels were routed on their home floor, Dejean-Jones proclaimed himself physically healthy and the team mentally prepared to go forward.

“Nobody sees a loss like that coming,” he said. “It just kept escalating and got worse and worse. But we’re not going to dwell on that. We came in and regrouped, and we have to move on.”

UNLV (1-1) moves on to face Omaha (2-1) at 7 p.m. today at the Thomas &Mack Center, where a disgruntled crowd peppered the Rebels with boos two games into the season.

Dejean-Jones made an early return from his injury and started Tuesday in an 86-65 loss to UC Santa Barbara. It was UNLV’s most lopsided home beating since February 2003.

“We try not to let a loss like that affect the next game,” Dejean-Jones said. “We’re looking to bounce back.”

The Rebels will roll out their third different starting lineup in three games, coach Dave Rice said, partly because of another injury. Junior point guard Deville Smith could miss a week with a sprained knee ligament.

Kendall Smith, a freshman from Deer Valley High School in Antioch, Calif., will start at the point. Senior guard Kevin Olekaibe makes his second start at shooting guard in place of junior Jelan Kendrick.

Dejean-Jones, the team’s leading returning scorer from last season, will start on the wing next to forwards Roscoe Smith and Khem Birch.

“Kendall has been aggressive. He’s confident,” Rice said. “He’s done a very good job in practice of running our team. He’s just one of those guys who I believe will play well in big games.

“Everyone is competing for starting jobs and minutes.”

Rice’s lineup shake-up was not a quick-trigger response to the team’s poor performance against UCSB. But Kendrick has struggled offensively, shooting 4 of 18, and Kendall Smith shot 9 of 13 (a team-high 69.2 percent) in the two games.

UNLV is shooting 39.7 percent from the field as a team, and just as troubling has been its free-throwing shooting (24 of 48), which is even worse than it appears when taking into account Birch is 13 of 14 at the line.

Dejean-Jones said “defensive mistakes and not executing correctly on offense” were issues outlined by the coaches during a Wednesday film session.

In 16 minutes Tuesday, Dejean-Jones shot 1-for-5 and was limited to five points. He was held out the game late because it was a blowout, Rice said, but he will play more minutes today.

“I was out there trying to do as much as I can,” Dejean-Jones said. “I’ve definitely moved past the injury.”

Rice said he was “very stern” with his players before going back to the chalkboard and schooling a relatively young team that lacks game experience.

“There’s still no excuse for our effort on Tuesday,” Rice said after mentioning injuries to Dejean-Jones, Deville Smith and freshman reserve Chris Wood. “The next day, we watched film and I got after them pretty good. There was a lot of teaching to do.”

Omaha, formerly known as Nebraska-Omaha, opened with a 68-66 win at Northern Illinois. In an 83-75 loss at Iowa on Sunday, the Mavericks got a taste of life on the road when they shot 16 free throws and the Hawkeyes attempted 49.

Junior guard CJ Carter leads Omaha at 20.7 points per game, and he scored 22 in a 101-71 victory over Missouri-Kansas City on Wednesday.

The Mavericks ranked first in the nation in adjusted tempo last season, according to statistics at Kenpom.com. What that means is they are a running team inclined to play an open-court game, unlike the Gauchos, who stymied the Rebels with a zone defense.

UNLV’s defensive intensity was missing Tuesday, Rice said, as a result of a lack of offensive success.

“We’ve got to get them stopped in transition. They shoot the ball from anywhere, and they run the floor,” Rice said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re disciplined on the offensive end. This is a good basketball team that we’re playing. It’s a major challenge for us.”

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

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