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Fresno State brings Las Vegas flavor into UNLV matchup

Fresno State’s two leading scorers, forwards Nate Grimes and Orlando Robinson, are back in their hometown trying to defeat the team they grew up watching.

Both players were on the Las Vegas Knicks’ AAU team, and Grimes played high school ball at Desert Pines and Robinson at Centennial.

“They’re two guys we’ve definitely got to key in on, especially since they’re about to come home,” said UNLV senior forward Nick Blair, who went to Bishop Gorman High School and has known Grimes since middle school. “I’m sure they want to play well in front of their respective families, friends and coaches.”

Neither Fresno State player was recruited at UNLV, but neither was a top-100 recruit. UNLV signed two top-30 players in the 2015 class under then-coach Dave Rice, who had a sense of urgency to win and was fired in January 2016. Then-coach Marvin Menzies passed on Robinson last year because the Rebels were loaded in the frontcourt and had other more urgent needs.

“I look forward to seeing all of my good friends that I have played with in the past and played against in the past,” Robinson said.

Coach T.J. Otzelberger, who is nearing the end of his first season at UNLV, has targeted local players, including landing Nick Blake and Keshon Gilbert, who have played for the Knicks.

“The new staff is recruiting Vegas kids a lot,” Knicks director Lamar Bigby said.

Grimes, a 6-foot-8-inch senior, has taken time to develop. He redshirted in 2015-16 and didn’t begin to blossom until last season when Grimes averaged 11.8 points. 9.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots.

This season, he averages nearly a double-double at 12.7 points and 9.8 rebounds as well as 1.7 blocks. Grimes, whose brother Randal is a standout UNLV wide receiver, was suspended for the Jan. 25 game against Boise State because of his conduct following an 86-68 loss at Colorado State three days earlier, according to The Fresno (California) Bee.

On where he has made his greatest strides, Grimes said his “basketball IQ has really improved a lot, as well as my ability to shoot the 3,” which is a career-best 38.6 percent.

Robinson, who is 6-10, is making a run at Mountain West Freshman of the Year. He averages 12.6 points and seven rebounds.

“I’ve made a big jump on offense and defense,” Robinson said. “I’ve learned how to defend better in my areas and zones. On offense, I’ve learned to take my time and see how the defense is playing me and what to do in those types of situations. I credit my coaches for being patient with me and teaching me how to do things the right way, and I credit myself on learning those things.”

Grimes and Robinson form what could be the Mountain West’s best inside tandem.

“They’re both guys that can score around the basket and step outside and shoot the 3, local kids that have a lot of pride coming back to their home city and trying to get a victory,” Otzelberger said. “So we’re going to have to be very focused defensively to match and even have a higher level of energy to keep them off the glass, prevent them from easy baskets and contest shots on the 3-point line.”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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