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Rebels heed warning signs, keep their focus

Warning signals were being sounded all around the UNLV basketball program entering Saturday night’s game against Southern Utah.

A game against a weak opponent like the Thunderbirds, who entered the contest 3-7 and without a real quality win, wouldn’t ordinarily seem like a difficult test for a team coming off an impressive victory over the No. 3 team in the nation.

But that win UNLV earned over Arizona on Tuesday is precisely the reason there was such concern heading into the Southern Utah game.

Those worries were alleviated almost immediately.

The Rebels scored on their first six possessions and jumped out to an early lead. Despite a disappointing stretch of nearly six minutes without a field goal to close the first half, UNLV cruised to a 79-45 win that was never in doubt.

UNLV coach Dave Rice admitted he was concerned about a possible letdown. Not only had the Rebels split a pair of consecutive games against ranked teams, a loss to Utah followed by the win over Arizona, but there are two big games on the horizon.

UNLV will open conference play against Wyoming on Wednesday before traveling to Kansas for another game against a highly-ranked opponent on Sunday.

Rice was so concerned about a possible letdown in the soft spot on the schedule that he went into Saturday’s shootaround thinking he may have to get after a few guys to make sure everyone stayed focused.

It didn’t happen.

“I kept looking for things and there was nothing to get after them about,” Rice said. “A lot of that has to do with the senior leadership from guys like Cody Doolin and Jelan Kendrick, as well as the enthusiasm and commitment of the young guys.

“I was pleased with the response.”

Rice harped on that word quite a bit when discussing his team.

“One of the words we use in our program a lot is response. There are different kinds of responses. One would be responding to a difficult loss against Utah where we come out and beat the No. 3 team in the country in Arizona. Then, there are responses to beating a team like Arizona and bouncing back against a program that’s doing a nice job of rebuilding, that’s shooting 39 percent from 3, and I very much liked our team’s response,” Rice said. “I thought we responded extremely well. We held a team that shoots the ball well to 25 percent from the floor and we had 20 assists on 25 made field goals.”

Now comes the time to try to respond to the challenges of conference play.

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