After his team’s 72-67 exhibition victory over Adams State on Tuesday night, UNLV head coach Dave Rice said he saw glimpses of the kind of the team the Runnin’ Rebels can be this season.
The bright spots: senior guard Kevin Olekaibe, whose hardship transfer waiver from Fresno State was officially approved by the Mountain West Conference a few hours earlier, started strong and provided the Rebels with some much-needed shooting from downtown. The former Cimarron-Memorial star was 3-for-6 from 3-point range in the first half en route to a team-high 17 points.
“He (Rice) just lets me go out there and play and not to worry about anything or second-guess anything,” Olekaibe said.
Olekaibe cooled off in the second half, but hit a huge 3-pointer with two minutes left in the game to give UNLV a 68-60 lead.
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“He’s one of those players, that when he shoots the ball, everyone, especially I do, thinks the ball is going to go in,” Rice said.
Along with Olekaibe, freshman guard Kendall Smith made his debut, after missing Friday’s game with a sprained ankle. He provided a big boost off the bench in the second half, scoring 12 points, all on drives or cuts to the basket.
“Kendall Smith showed some good things in terms of dribble penetration,” Rice said.
Junior point guard Deville Smith added 10 points, and most importantly for Rice, led the team with 6 assists. Up front, junior Roscoe Smith and senior Carlos Lopez-Sosa combined for 14 points and 18 rebounds, despite battling foul problems most of the game.
The tough spots: the Rebels struggled again from the foul line. The crowd at Thomas & Mack was definitely aware of struggles, voicing its displeasure as the Rebels finished 12-of-26 for the game.
The team is well aware of the problem as well.
“It’s a momentum killer,” Rice said. “If we make a reasonable amount of free throws, we win that game probably going away.”
When asked about the free throw woes, junior guard Jelan Kendrick added “It’s just repetition. We got to take pride in it. It really is a make-or-break deal.”
Missed free throws, as well as turnovers, helped keep Adams State in the game. With a mix of new players on the floor, both Kendrick and Olekaibe say finding that groove as a team can only be gained by logging minutes together on the floor.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but the good part is we’ve got a lot of room for improvement because our team chemistry is go good,” Rice said.
The Rebels return to the Thomas & Mack for their season opener against Portland State on Friday night. Junior forward Khem Birch (turf toe) is expected to play, but junior guard Bryce DeJean-Jones (strained hamstring) remains questionable.
STORY AND VIDEO BY BARRY WONG