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December 29, 2012For the first time this season unranked North Carolina (9-3) will face its last non-conference opponent when it welcomes No. 20 UNLV (10-1) into town Saturday afternoon.
North Carolina is looking for a little revenge on the Rebels, as UNLV was unranked last year and ended up defeating then-No. 1 North Carolina 90-80.
If the Tar Heels are to beat Vegas this time around they'll have to do it without starting guard Reggie Bullock, who suffered a mild concussion after a collision with a teammate in practice Thursday night.
A UNC official confirmed to Tar Heel Illustrated Saturday morning that Bullock won't play on Saturday.
UNC and UNLV will meet for the fifth time in the series and for the first time in Chapel Hill. Overall, UNC holds a 3-1 overall record against the Rebels and Roy Williams is 3-1 overall against the Rebels (3-0 at Kansas and 0-1 at North Carolina).
The Rebels, led by freshman Anthony Bennett, hope for their 10th straight victory this season, after they suffered a loss to Oregon earlier in the season. Bennett has been a dominating presence for the Rebels so far this season and Coach Williams saw his potential through the AAU circuit.
"I saw Anthony play a lot, and I thought he was really, really good," Williams said. "I'd really have to think for a long time to think of a freshman in the country who has the numbers he has."
Bennett has averaged 19.5 points per game, along with 8.5 rebounds. He's been a dominate presence down low for the Rebels, one that UNC will have to find Saturday if they want a victory.
Last year, UNC struggled in a hostile environment and were never able to stop the Rebels offensively. Mike Moser led the attack, putting up 16 points and 18 rebounds in the win.
This year, Moser won't be able to try to repeat his performance, as he suffered a dislocated elbow earlier in the year against California.
The Rebels' stats are impressive so far, as they have been able to dominate most of their opponents the first half of the season. UNLV has an RPI so far of 10 and a strength of schedule ranked in the top 20.
The statistics below show just how dominate the Rebels have been so far this year, even against those worthy opponents.
Points per Game: 79.3
Average points allowed: 63.1
Field Goal%: 45.3%
Rebounds per Game (Off/Def): 42.3 (13.5/28.8)
Assists/Turnovers/Steals: 17.8/ 14.1/ 9.1
What has impressed coach Williams the most is not on the offensive side for UNLV, but it's their defense instead.
UNLV is among the nation's leaders on the defensive side, only allowing opponents to shoot 37.1 percent from the field, which could give the Tar Heels some trouble.
"I always say the mark of a good team is to hold your opponent to under 40 percent (shooting)," Williams said.
"The way I look at it is we have one more non-conference game, and we're looking at it as we're getting ready to play a (UNLV) team that would be one of the two best teams in the ACC. That's the caliber of team we're getting ready to play."
UNLV has five players averaging over 10 points a game and seven total players that average of eight points a game, giving UNLV a balanced attack.
The Tar Heels will need to recognize that on Saturday and play dominate defense as they have at home against inferior opponents.
P.J. Hairston scored 15 points last year against UNLV and will need another showing like the one last week against McNeese State, when he scored a team high 20 points.
UNC is 6-0 at home this year, and the Dean Dome will be rocking Saturday, as the Tar Heels look to put a signature win on its resume for tournament time.
However, the Tar Heels have struggled against teams that can put up points, as its defense seems to struggle at times if the shots aren't falling.
UNC averages 84 points a game, but when Hairston, Leslie McDonald, Dexter Strickland, and Marcus Paige aren't hitting their outside shots, the team struggles.
Brice Johnson and James Michael McAdoo will have their hands full with Bennett down low, but they will either have to get Bennett in foul trouble or put the pressure on him to make shots with solid defense.
This will be the Tar Heels last chance to build its non-conference resume before they start ACC play, when they head to Charlottesville to face Virginia on Jan 6.
Coach Williams just had one question when they face UNLV Saturday evening.
"The big question is, can my new team play better than my old team did there last year,'" Williams said.
One will see if UNC can give UNLV a little taste of their own medicine and pull off a victory against a ranked and talented UNLV team.