UNLV opened the season at 8-0, with its biggest win during that stretch coming in Sin City against then No. 1 North Carolina, 90-80, on November 26. Since then however, the Rebels have split four games, logging double-digit wins over Cal State San Marcos and UTEP, while suffering double-digit setbacks to Wichita State and Wisconsin. The 65-54 win over the Miners took place at home on Wednesday, and following this bout, coach Dave Rice's club will return to Las Vegas for three straight. UNLV opens Mountain West Conference play at San Diego State on January 14.
At 10-0, Illinois is off to its best start since the 2005-06 team started 15-0. One of only nine undefeated teams left at the Division I level entering the weekend, the Illini took care of visiting Coppin State in their last outing, claiming an 80-63 decision to run their home mark to 7-0 this season, and log their 10th straight home win overall. Coach Bruce Weber's club has faced just one ranked team this season, knocking off Gonzaga (82-75) on December 3, and in addition to this clash the Illini will face No. 10 Missouri next Thursday in St. Louis.
Illinois has never lost to UNLV in three previous matchups, the most recent of which was a 73-62 decision last March in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
UNLV averages 78.8 ppg, doing so on the strength of 46.3 percent field goal efficiency, which includes a 35.7 percent showing from three-point range. There are four double-digit scorers on the roster, and a fifth close to joining the ranks. Chace Stanback heads the group with his 14.3 ppg, and he adds 5.3 rpg to his stat line. Mike Moser averages a double-double with 14.0 points and 12.3 rebounds per contest, and he ranks second on the team in steals with 24. Justin Hawkins (10.8 ppg, 29 steals) does the bulk of his damage coming off the bench, while Oscar Bellfield (10.8 ppg, 4.9 apg) and Anthony Marshall (9.8 ppg) have also performed well for the Rebels this season. Defensively, UNLV is giving up 65.7 ppg, with foes hitting their field goals 41.9 percent of the time, and their three-pointers at a 36.1 percent clip. The Rebels are +5.6 in rebounding margin, and they force nearly 16 turnovers per outing. Marshall hit for 20 points in the recent win over UTEP, while Hawkins and Carlos Lopez chipped in 12 and 11 points, respectively, in a combined 48 minutes of action off the bench. Moser grabbed 11 rebounds. The Miners committed 20 turnovers and made only one of their 10 three-point tries.
Illinois has four double-digit scorers on the roster, led by D.J. Richardson with his 13.7 ppg. A near 40-percent shooter from beyond the arc, Richardson is joined by Meyers Leonard (13.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Sam Maniscalco (12.0 ppg, 2.8 apg) and Brandon Paul (10.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.4 apg), each of whom has done his part in helping the Illini put up 71.6 ppg on 46.9 percent field goal efficiency and 75.5 percent from the free-throw line. Illinois has done a tremendous job at the defensive end, limiting the opposition to a mere 56.5 ppg on typical shooting outputs of 37.9 percent overall and 35.0 percent from downtown. The Illini win the battle on the boards by an average of 5.0 rpg, and they benefit from nearly 16 turnovers per tilt. Richardson poured in 20 points to lead four UI players in double figures, as the visiting Coppin State Eagles put up very little fight in what wound up as a 17-point win for the Illini. Illinois nailed a season-best 10 three-pointers in the win, and shot a stellar 56 percent from the floor overall. Leonard notched the second double- double of his career by tallying 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Maniscalco and Paul pitched in with 12 points apiece.