Saturday 27 November 2021 | noon
Are you ready for the biggest UNLV basketball game of the year?
The Scarlet and Gray host the UCLA No.2 at the Thomas & Mack Center today (2 p.m., Stadium), and between the elite competition and the halftime shirt removal ceremony in the Honor of Freddie Banks, this is shaping up to be quite an event.
Three keys for UNLV:
Keep Hamm on the ground
UNLV is extremely thin in the frontcourt, with senior Royce Hamm offering the only real rim protection in defense (1.8 blocks per game). It’s a problem because Hamm has flirted with fouling issues a number of times this season, including two games in which he won four personal games and had to limit his minutes.
UCLA ranks 75th in the country in rim fire count, so Hamm realizes how crucial it is for him to serve as the last line of defense.
The senior said he is working to anticipate games in order to be in a better position to defend while avoiding unnecessary fouls.
“It’s definitely something that I focus on just because I play so hard,” said Hamm. “I think sometimes I tend to pull myself out of my position a bit just because I’m moving too much. I’m so aid-oriented when it comes to my team, just because I’m the last line of defense. sometimes [now] I try to make sure I’m in position and think ahead to help me not have foul issues.
The season schedule is 20% full, so we have a pretty decent idea of what kind of team UNLV is going to be this year. And they look like a crew that will struggle to score at times, as evidenced by their 10-minute lack of a field goal at the wrong time in a one-point loss to Wichita State.
UCLA are not an elite defensive team (not yet, anyway – give Mick Cronin some time and the Bruins will surely recover on this end of the pitch), but there’s a good chance that UNLV is having another tough time getting the ball into the hoop at some point on Saturday. That’s when they’ll need their best offensive player, senior goaltender Bryce Hamilton, to get stronger.
Hamilton has produced this season, averaging 18 points per game, but it took a lot of shots to reach that number; he only shoots 37.9%, which is lower than the team’s overall rate of 41.9%.
It’s hard to imagine UNLV threatening an upset without Hamilton making at least half of his shots. The Scarlet and Gray will need their best player to get out, especially when the buckets are (inevitably) hard to find.
Today begins the toughest three-game streak of the year for UNLV; after hosting UCLA today, Kruger will take his team on the road for games at SMU (Wednesday) and San Francisco (December 4). UCLA is obviously a title contender, while SMU and San Francisco are comfortably in the KenPom Top 100.
Now, UNLV probably doesn’t have much of a chance of winning an overall bid for the NCAA tournament this year, so it’s not crucial that they win those games, but they really want to prove they can beat one. strong non-conference team after losing to Michigan and Wichita State last week.
What: UNLV (4-2) vs. UCLA (5-1)
Where: Thomas & Mack Center
When: 2 p.m.
Line: UCLA -10
Bryce Hamilton, 18.0 points per game
Royce Hamm, 12.8 rebounds per game
Jordan McCabe, 3.7 assists per game
Johnny Juzang, 18.3 points per game
Jaime Jaquez, 7.3 rebounds per game
Tyger Campbell, 4.2 assists per game
Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.