UNLV willing to trade 3s for 2s, but needs better inside defense

SAN JOSE, Calif. — With the increased emphasis on the 3-point shot throughout the highest levels of basketball, UNLV coach Marvin Menzies believes the top defensive priority is driving shooters off the arc and forcing them to take what he calls “tough twos.”

It’s a strategy that has largely worked, but in the past two games, Northern Colorado and Boise State happily gave up threes for what turned out to be fairly easy twos, each scoring at least 50 points in the lane.

Northern Colorado was competitive in a 94-91 loss on Dec. 22, and Boise State won 83-74 on Saturday. Now it’s a matter of UNLV, which plays at San Jose State at 8 p.m. Wednesday on AT&T SportsNet, having to adjust.

SHORT DESCRIPTION (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

“We’re always going to change the scout depending on the team that we’re playing,” Menzies said. “We’re never going to do anything consistently the same except standard basketball principles, like we have to do a better job taking care of the ball, blocking out defensively.

“When it comes to specific assignments, those are all going to be based on personnel you’re going against, so those will change.”

The Rebels (11-3, 0-1 Mountain West) have a chance to put behind them the sting of the loss to Boise State, with San Jose State (3-10, 0-2) the first in a series of quite beatable opponents. UNLV is an 11½-point favorite against the Spartans, and after this game will face Utah State, Air Force, New Mexico and Colorado State.

Highly touted freshman Brandon McCoy and junior college transfer Shakur Juiston, who have combined to average 34.6 points and 21.6 rebounds, are most responsible for UNLV’s interior defense.

But in Menzies’ system, all five positions must defend the 3-point line if the assigned shooter is beyond the arc. So that has pulled McCoy and Juiston out at times, opening a driving lane to the basket. One strategy could be to let either or both players stay inside and protect the rim, but Menzies sounded as if the primary emphasis would remain on defending the 3-point shot.

“We know what we do works,” Menzies said. “It just hasn’t been executed at a high level.”

McCoy has struggled with foul trouble much of the season and has appeared tentative in recent games, raising his arms while opponents maneuvered around him for layups. Menzies, though, said the foul difficulties weren’t a factor in McCoy’s recent play.

“I think he’s just a freshman who’s getting better and figuring some things out,” Menzies said. “I think he’s brought some things to the table that he’s carried over from his previous training, which are helping us, and there are other areas where he’s still developing.”

Perhaps by the end of the season, McCoy — who last week tweeted he achieved a 3.34 GPA in the fall semester — will be a far more effective defender.

“People forget that when you’re a freshman in college you’ve got a lot of learning still,” Menzies said. “I don’t anticipate him doing anything but getting better with his approach. He’s got a great attitude about wanting to learn and wanting to improve.”

Injury update

Backup forward Cheickna Dembele is going through the concussion protocol and will be a game-time decision on Wednesday. Reserve forward Anthony Smith (ankle) will not play. Neither played against Boise State.

More Rebels: Follow all of our UNLV coverage online at reviewjournal.com/Rebels and @RJRebels on Twitter.

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

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