UNLV doesn’t typically play true road games early in the season, at least this early.
But here the Rebels are getting ready to play their third and fourth games of this young season on the road, visiting Pac-12 Conference schools California on Tuesday and UCLA on Friday. Both games are at 8 p.m.
The last time UNLV played a true away game this early was 12 years ago when the Rebels in their third game went to San Diego. UNLV played its first seven games last season and first six each of the two prior years in Las Vegas.
Now the Rebels (1-1), who are still trying to develop chemistry with a team that turned over about half its roster, hit the road to play a Cal team (1-0) that opened its season under new coach Mark Fox by upsetting Pepperdine 87-71 on Nov. 5.
But this also is an experienced UNLV team. Coach T.J. Otzelberger didn’t sign any high school players in rebuilding the roster.
“We’ve got a team with no freshmen, so we’ve all played road games at this point in our careers,” guard Amauri Hardy said. “We’re not playing at home. We might not get every call, but we’ve got to come in here focused and ready to go to pull out this win.”
Otzelberger said he doesn’t treat away games any differently from home ones. Instead, he has emphasized traits he thinks should show up no matter where the Rebels play. UNLV held Kansas State to 37.3-percent shooting in Saturday’s 60-56 overtime loss and outrebounded the Wildcats 43-37.
“I’m still learning more about our team each and every day and how they perform at their best,” Otzelberger said. “We’ve been a very blue-collar type of team, so it’s not a team where they’re looking for a bunch of rest and time off. Everybody knows defense and rebounding travels, right? So if we can defend and rebound at Berkeley (California) on Tuesday like we defended and rebounded (Saturday), we’ll put ourselves in a position to be in a spot to win a game on the road against a Pac-12 team.”
UNLV probably should be 2-0 heading to Cal. The Rebels led for 31 minutes over Kansas State, but they struggled for the second game in a row at the beginning of the second half and failed to make key plays at the end of regulation and in overtime.
“I feel like the thing that we need to correct is that start to the second half,” Otzelberger said. “They have just not been great to us. We’ve got to get better there. We’ve got to get better at executing late.”
Kansas State is rebuilding, but this also is the same program that shared the Big 12 Conference championship last season. So being that competitive with such a program could be something on which UNLV could build.
“We were outsized at most positions, but the fight that our guys played with, I was really proud of,” Otzelberger said. “If we can bring that effort and energy every night out, we’re going to like the outcome a lot of nights.”
Who: UNLV at California
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Haas Pavilion, Berkeley, Calif.
TV/Radio: Pac-12 Network; KWWN (1100 AM, 100.9 FM)
Line: Cal -3; total 138
Coach: T.J. Otzelberger (1-1, first season)
Coach: Mark Fox (1-0, first season)