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Rebels’ Wood focusing on inside job

In a few months, UNLV sophomore Chris Wood might confront a decision about his professional career. Will he be ready to take a shot at the NBA or not?

As of now, he’s not. He knows it, too.

“I wouldn’t say I’m a complete player,” Wood said.

The 6-foot-11-inch forward still is learning how to play the college game, and the next few games should show where he stands on the learning curve.

The Rebels (6-2) play host to Portland (7-2) at 7:30 p.m. today at the Thomas & Mack Center in the first game on their home floor since Nov. 29. It also opens a grueling seven-day stretch, with No. 14 Utah and No. 3 Arizona arriving in Las Vegas next.

“Most definitely, we’re going to be tested,” said Wood, who will play a big role for UNLV as it encounters opponents with more size and skill in the low-post area.

The Pilots are anchored by a pair of senior big men — 6-11 center Thomas van der Mars and 6-10, 250-pound forward Volodymyr Gerun. The Rebels counter with Wood and 6-10 freshman Goodluck Okonoboh, who both lack experience in physical battles close to the basket.

Primarily a jump shooter as a freshman, Wood is slowly adapting to an inside-out approach to scoring. When catching the ball near the paint against smaller defenders, he has dunked and dominated in short spurts.

“I knew last year I was taking a lot of jump shots,” said Wood, who had 117 field-goal attempts as a freshman, 50 from 3-point range. “But I’m trying to assert myself in the post. I can’t just rely on my jump shot.

“Being as tall as I am, I have to get in the post. It’s one thing I have to add to my game.”

UNLV coach Dave Rice and his staff have spent a lot of time teaching Wood how to be a more complete player. Senior point guard Cody Doolin is doing some teaching, too.

“Chris is my roommate on the road, so I get to spend a lot of time with him,” Doolin said. “I think he just keeps getting better and better. He’s still a sophomore and still learning.

“I do think he’s improving around the basket. One on one in the post, he can be very effective and get us easy baskets. Chris has a lot of strengths to his game. He’s just a freak athlete, and he can catch everything. You can throw a rocket pass in between three guys and he can catch it and finish. He runs the court really well, and he’s a mismatch in that regard with a lot of big men.”

Wood is the Rebels’ No. 2 scorer (13.0 points per game), top rebounder (9.6) by a wide margin and top shot blocker (27). But he’s not one of the team’s top perimeter shooters.

After hitting 22 percent from 3-point range last season, he is 3-for-16 (18.8 percent) this season. He is attempting fewer 3s, only one in the past two games while shooting 12-for-15 inside the arc.

Rice sees that as a positive sign, an indication that Wood realizes he can be productive offensively without firing 3s.

“He’s having success for us scoring on the low post, scoring on the mid post and driving the ball to the basket. I think the most important part is that he’s feeling that,” Rice said. “(The 3-point shot) is not going to be something we totally eliminate from his game, because there’s still a time and a place for it.

“Late in the game, when we needed baskets, he was the guy we went to. He will be a guy we run our offense through. We need him on both ends of the floor. We need his experience, and we need his points, his rebounds and his blocked shots.”

Wood is working mostly with assistant Todd Simon, his former coach at Findlay Prep, on his back-to-the-basket attack.

“I feel like I have one go-to move,” Wood said. “I’m trying to learn more and become a better post player.”

Wood’s interior play will be a key for the Rebels against Portland, Utah and Arizona.

“Chris will be a huge factor,” Rice said.

■ NOTES — Today’s game will not be televised, but it will be video-streamed by Campus Insiders on the Mountain West Network, available for free at UNLVRebels.com. … The UNLV women’s basketball team hosts Northwestern at the Thomas & Mack at 4 p.m.

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

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