An intriguing matchup is on tap in Chapel Hill on Saturday afternoon, as the 20th-ranked UNLV Runnin' Rebels put a nine- game win streak on the line as they take on the North Carolina Tar Heels at the Smith Center.
Dave Rice's second season in Sin City has gotten off to a strong start. The Rebels have won 11 of their first 12 games, with the lone loss coming on Nov. 23 against Oregon, 83-79. UNLV was most recently in action a week ago against Canisius, topping the Golden Griffins, 89-74.
Roy Williams' Tar Heels are a flawless 6-0 at home this year, thanks to a 97-63 rout of McNeese State last time out. With the win, North Carolina moved to 9-3 overall. This contest will close out UNC's 2012 calendar year. The team will open up ACC play after the New Year at Virginia.
This is the fifth meeting between these two teams. UNC has won three of the previous four matchups, but UNLV finally found its way into the win column with last year's 90-80 victory in the Las Vegas Invitational.
UNLV really found its stroke offensively against Canisius, converting 59.6 percent from the field, including a scorching 64 percent in the first half, cruising to a 15-point win over the Golden Griffins. Five Rebels finished in double figures, led by Anthony Bennett's 21 points. Khem Birch was instrumental in the win, pouring in 20 points off the bench. Katin Reinhardt added 14 points, while Justin Hawkins and Bryce Dejean-Jones chipped in with 12 points each.
A potent team with plenty of scoring depth, UNLV is averaging 79.2 ppg this year, on a healthy .453 shooting. The team lost Mike Moser (10.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg) to a dislocated elbow in early December, but others have been able to assuage the loss. Bennett has dominated up front despite being just a freshman. The youngster is shooting .557 from the floor and leads the team in both scoring (19.5 ppg) and rebounding (8.5 rpg). Birch (11.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg) has played in just three games, but has also made an immediate impact. Anthony Marshall (10.3 ppg, 5.3 apg) is both a scorer and deft distributor, while Reinhardt (10.0 ppg) provides another offensive threat.
Behind 54.1 percent shooting in the first half, including eight 3-pointers, North Carolina jumped out to a huge lead over McNeese State at the break (54-23) and never looked back. Five Tar Heels notched double digits in a balanced outing, led by P.J. Hairston's 20 points. Reggie Bullock added 17 points to the cause, followed by James Michael McAdoo (12 pts), Leslie McDonald (11 pts) and Brice Johnson (10 pts).
Despite a modest record in Tar Heel country, UNC remains one of the nation's most dangerous offensive squads. The team ranks third nationally in scoring at 84.0 ppg. North Carolina has also played well defensively for the most part, limiting foes to 69.7 ppg and under 40 percent shooting (.381). James Michael McAdoo may become UNC's next star. The sophomore has had some consistency issues thus far, but still leads UNC in both scoring (15.0 ppg) and rebounding (8.3 rpg). Bullock (13.1 ppg) and Hairston (12.2 ppg) round out the top scoring threats on the roster. Depth is found in the form of McDonald (9.4 ppg), Dexter Strickland (8.8 ppg) and Johnson (8.7 ppg).