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Rebounding keys UNLV’s resurgence during 3-game win streak

UNLV forward Mbacke Diong didn’t have to go against Utah State 7-footer Neemias Queta on Wednesday, but the Aggies still threw out post players who were 7-0 and 7-2 to try to make life difficult inside.

But it was the 6-11 Diong who dominated, finishing with 10 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots as the Rebels pulled off a shocking 70-53 rout of the Aggies.

Diong’s play highlighted a strong rebounding effort by the Rebels, who had a 41-29 advantage. UNLV has outrebounded opponents by an average of 42-26 during its current three-game winning streak.

“The guys are understanding that’s who we need to be,” coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “It’s something we’re spending time on in practice, focusing on, emphasizing. Our guys are stepping up during the game.”

UNLV is one of the nation’s top rebounding teams, especially on the offensive end. The Rebels are eighth, according to Kenpom, in percentage of potential offensive rebounds secured at 37.4. They are 88th in allowing opponents to grab 25.9 percent of potential offensive rebounds. The national average is 28.2.

The Rebels are 30th in rebounding margin at plus 7.5 per game. UNLV has won the rebounding battle in 12 of its 15 games, going 7-5. UNLV went 0-3 in the three in which it was beaten on the boards.

Diong pulls down 16.1 percent of potential offensive rebounds, which, according to Kenpom, is 18th nationally. He’s seventh with 4.1 offensive rebounds per game and 43rd in total rebounding average at 9.4.

Against Utah State, Diong outrebounded Aggies big men Trevin Dorius and Kuba Karwowski by 10. They played in place of Queta (knee), who averaged 11.8 points and 8.9 rebounds last season in becoming the Mountain West freshman and defensive player of the year.

Utah State went with a smaller lineup most of the night, with 6-7 forward Justin Bean doing most of the rebounding work in grabbing 11 because the Aggies didn’t match up well on the boards with Diong and his teammates.

“I feel like everybody has got to be a leader when it comes to rebounds,” Diong said. “When they shoot it, we’ve got to go find a body to box out just like we do in practice. If I can’t get it, I’ve got to make sure my man doesn’t get it, so someone else (for UNLV) can come grab it.”

To underscore his point, the Rebels are getting rebounding help from throughout the roster, with 6-7 forward Donnie Tillman having collected 21 in the past three games. He averages 5.3 for the season.

Even 6-4 guard Bryce Hamilton has contributed, pulling down 14 rebounds in the past two games.

“We know it’s something we can do very well, so we try to emphasize doing it in the game,” Hamilton said.

UNLV should continue its rebounding dominance when Air Force visits the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday because, due to academy size restrictions, no Falcons player is taller than 6-9.

Whether it’s the Falcons or any other Mountain West opponent the rest of the season, UNLV knows its success depends largely on its ability to grab rebounds.

“If we need to get run-outs, if we need to get second chances, we need to rebound,” Diong said.

More Rebels: Follow at reviewjournal.com/Rebels.

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

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