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Kemp keeping Rebels on toes

Not quite ready for an early jump to the NBA, Marcelus Kemp returned to UNR for his senior season. It’s also his sixth season, so he’s the definition of a college basketball veteran.

In fact, Kemp has been around so long, he was in college when UNLV’s Lon Kruger was coaching in the NBA.

Kruger knows a big-time scorer when he sees one, and he will see Kemp again when the Rebels (3-1) host the Wolf Pack (2-1) at 7 p.m. today at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Kemp, a 6-foot-5-inch guard, is averaging 18 points per game, and containing him is UNLV’s next challenge.

“Kemp is an outstanding scorer,” Kruger said. “When you face an outstanding player, there are really no shortcuts to it. He’s going to get his points. We just have to make him work hard to get them.”

UNR coach Mark Fox was relieved after Kemp applied for the NBA Draft last summer, then withdrew his name to continue improving his game.

The Wolf Pack lost four starters from last season’s 29-5 team. Two of them, forward Nick Fazekas and point guard Ramon Sessions, went in the second round of the draft. Kemp came back because UNR needed him more than the NBA did.

He is starting in the backcourt with freshman Armon Johnson and sophomore Brandon Fields.

“Marcelus is the only experienced guy we have and he really has been playing well. He has been patient with the younger guys, knowing there’s inexperience around him,” Fox said. “He’s going into games as the No. 1 priority for opposing teams.”

The Rebels will be well aware of Kemp, who will be defended by a group that includes 6-5 Corey Bailey, 6-7 Joe Darger, 6-6 Rene Rougeau and 6-foot Wink Adams.

Kemp was held to seven points on 1-for-11 shooting when UNLV upset the Wolf Pack 58-49 last year in Reno.

As a sophomore, Kemp came off the bench to score 24 points in UNR’s 68-61 victory in Las Vegas.

“Corey is one of our best defenders and he did a good job on him last year,” Rougeau said. “I think if we shut Kemp down, that will take away a lot of their offense.”

Kemp was redshirted for the 2002-03 season and also sat out the 2004-05 season as a medical redshirt after tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament. Last season as a junior, he averaged 18.5 points per game, third best in the Western Athletic Conference.

“A lot of the young guys are looking up to me now,” Kemp said. “I like the feeling. It feels great to be a leader.”

As concerned as he is with Kemp, Kruger is more focused on what his team must do better. The Rebels’ 19-game home winning streak ended Wednesday with a 68-48 loss to No. 6 Louisville.

UNLV shot 25 percent (16-for-64) from the field and was blown out after taking a two-point lead with about 15 minutes remaining. Kruger was pleased with his team’s defensive intensity.

“We have to compete as hard on the offensive end, too,” Kruger said. “We can’t settle for the first OK shot. We’ve got to work harder to get better shots.

“For all the new guys, the other night was kind of their first big-game atmosphere, and I think that showed.”

Fox said he sees “a lot of similarities” between the Wolf Pack and Rebels. Both teams return only one starter from last season.

Adams, a junior guard averaging 12 points per game, is UNLV’s version of Kemp. Adams said the Rebels need to regroup and forget about their collapse against the Cardinals.

“Next time we’re in that situation, hopefully we can handle it better,” Adams said. “We’ve got to put that game behind us.”

• NOTES — UNR has not played since Nov. 17, when Kemp scored 23 points in a 67-54 victory over Santa Clara. … Kemp has scored 76 percent of his points (41 of 54) in the second half this season. … UNR is 32-8 on the road since the start of the 2004-05 season.

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or (702) 387-2907.

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