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Beating Arizona: How UNLV did it

The Runnin' Rebels gave Arizona their first loss and remain the only team to beat them by more than one basket. Here's a look at how they pulled it off.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

You probably know by now that Arizona has lost a grand total of three games by a grand total of nine points this season. The pessimistic take on that fact is fairly obvious; the optimistic one is that they are beatable. We've reached out to the SBN blogs that cover each of the teams that has knocked off Arizona this year to get a feel for how it happened and whether or not Xavier can replicate their efforts. We looked at Oregon State earlier today; now let's check in on that UNLV win.

The Runnin' Rebels went ugly early, using athleticism and aggression to turn the game into a chippy affair. By the time the dust settled, there had been a total of 40 fouls and 51 free throws in the game. There was a double technical in the first half and flagrant one on Arizona later on. The Wildcats had control of the game for the first 30 minutes or so but never really finished off UNLV. When Arizona went cold with just under 11 minutes left, the hosts caught and then overtook them, and sloppy execution down the stretch gave 'Zona its first loss of the season.

To get a better feel for this game that I didn't watch, we reached out to Tyler Bischoff, Mountain West Connection's UNLV basketball writer. Being a gentleman, he reached back.

Banners on the Parkway: You crushed Arizona on the glass, with OReb%/DReb% of 35%/82.1%. How did that happen? Was it a great game plan or just great individual efforts?
Tyler Bischoff, Mountain West Connection: This game was an outlier for UNLV. The Rebels were a horrible rebounding team - 306th in offensive rebounding percentage, 242nd in defensive rebounding percentage - but this was a part of the season that Dave Rice was harping on rebounding. UNLV was the first team to outrebound Utah three days prior. As far as strategy, UNLV sent everyone to the glass and conceded fast break opportunities. The Rebels had six points in transition. Plus it was one of the few games where UNLV looked engaged in blocking out on every single shot.

BotP: Arizona went up 58-52 with 10:43 left in the game, then UNLV finished the game on a 19-9 run. What changed with the defense that helped hold the Wildcats to 9 points in the final 10:43?
TB, MWC: Over the last 10 minutes UNLV played three different defenses: man, 1-2-2 and 1-3-1. But it wasn't so much what UNLV was doing. Arizona was just bad. The Wildcats missed six shots at the rim down the stretch and four threes. All four threes were open. UNLV did force a few turnovers with active hands including Jelan Kendrick ripping Stanley Johnson in the final five seconds.

BotP: This game featured a double technical, a flagrant 1, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson fouling out with 7:14 left. Did that sort of chippiness contribute to the win for UNLV, or was it just something that flared up?
TB, MWC: A few of UNLV's players loved to play that way. Jordan Cornish got into Stanley Johnson resulting in the double technical. Goodluck Okonoboh and Chris Wood were better because of the added intensity. I don't think Johnson and Arizona were thrown off by the chippiness, but if it changed the game, it was definitely in UNLV's favor. Hollis-Jefferson fouling out, and Kaleb Tarczewski finishing with four fouls, had everything to do with Chris Wood being unstoppable. UNLV just ran a 1-4 low isolation for Wood over and over. Wood torched those two so bad that Sean Miller had to put Stanley Johnson on Wood in the final five minutes. Matt Stainbrook might be able to replicate this effect, since Sean Miller likely won't send a double team.

BotP: Arizona's offense was bad, shooting 23-54/5-15/16-27 and turning the ball over 15 times in 73 possessions. What did UNLV do to force this sort of performance out of the Wildcats?
TB, MWC: Arizona missed a lot of open shots at the rim, free throw line and from three. UNLV was not a great defensive team this year, but they at least made Arizona work for their open shots. The biggest issue for Arizona was that Stanley Johnson was awful. He had 13 points but shot 3 of 11, plus was just 6 of 11 from the line with a season-high seven turnovers. In the final minute alone he blew a layup in transition and lost his dribble when Arizona had a chance to win the game in the final 10 seconds.

BotP: KenPom has Xavier losing by 10. The line opened with Arizona favored by 11. From my angle, this looks like a pretty big mountain for X to climb. Give me a reason to hope that my guys can get this done and bring the program one step closer to its first Final Four.
TB, MWC: As far as hope, I love Stainbrook. If he can consistently score against Arizona, Xavier will have a chance. But Xavier probably needs Arizona to have an off night shooting, as well. They've got so many different pieces that it is hard to take away every good look. The best optimism is probably from Arizona's win over Ohio State. Wildcats not named T.J. McConnell shot 9 of 34 from two, including Stanley Johnson scoring four points on 1 of 12 shooting. Get that performance and Stainbrook going off and Xavier would advance.

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Thanks again to Tyler for taking time out to answer questions as we preview a game that doesn't involve his team.

Here's what I'm taking away from that: we have to have max effort and concentration on the boards. Arizona isn't some unstoppable machine on the glass; we have the horses to hang with them there, especially if we're running four or five defenders to rebound rather than fast break. If Matt Stainbrook is on his game, the Arizona front line can be had, especially if the whistle breaks our way (which is admittedly doubtful). Finally, luck is going to be a factor. We can play our A+ game, but it wouldn't hurt if Arizona didn't bring theirs.