Roscoe Smith has been dominant on the glass for UNLV throughout the short season.
But he hadn’t had to try to jump against a two-headed (or three-, or four-) monster like Arizona until Saturday.
Facing an onslaught of bouncy Wildcats at McKale Center, it was as if Smith’s shoelaces were tied.
Smith entered the matchup — a 63-58 Arizona victory that likely secured the top spot in the polls for the Wildcats — with a nation-leading 16.3 rebounds per game. Smith had performances this season of 22 rebounds, 21, 19 and 13, with double-figures in each of his team’s first six games.
He had six Saturday.
“That’s like the story behind the story right there,” Miller said. “He’s got 16 a game, and if you look at UNLV’s schedule, they’ve played very good teams. It shows the quality of our rebounding and physicality.”
It helps when a team can send wave of wave of talented big men at the opponent.
Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski, eight rebounds each. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, another seven.
Then add Brandon Ashley’s five, and that’s 28 for Arizona’s bigs, while UNLV’s entire starting lineup accounted for 19 rebounds, including 10 for forward Khem Birch.
Just when Smith had things lined up, another Wildcat jumped into the picture.
“There were times I felt myself boxing out three guys,” Smith said. “Arizona knew about my situation, so they definitely threw as many guys as they could at me.”
When the last rebound fell directly into Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell’s hands, the Wildcats had a 41-29 rebounding advantage.
More importantly in a game in which Arizona shot just 42 percent from the field, the team far outrebounded the Rebels on the offensive boards 18-5.
“They had a good game plan for boxing us out today,” Birch said. “Roscoe had, what, six rebounds today? Usually he gets over 15. They did a good job taking him out — when they box him out, I have to take advantage of that.”
UNLV coach Dave Rice added: “They are big and physical and do a great job of blocking out. … Arizona is a big, physical team.
“There’s a reason they are a national championship contender.”
It wasn’t just the Wildcats’ length that took the Rebels out of their game, but Arizona’s persistence. Nick Johnson and McConnell fought for position and usually got it.
McConnell had seven rebounds, and Johnson had five, including two on the offensive end.
“We needed more help,” Smith admitted. “We can get 10 or more rebounds per game, but when we’ve got good teams like Arizona, and they start throwing all their players at me and Khem, we need help.”
They’ve needed it several times this year, particularly in losses.
The Rebels had been outrebounded twice this year, losing both times.
In a two-point loss to Illinois on Nov. 26, Smith and Birch combined for 23 of the team’s 40 rebounds, and opposing guard Rayvonte Rice had 10 rebounds himself.
“Our guards have to do a better job of getting rebounds,” Rice said. “Sometimes when you have the best rebounder in the country from a numbers standpoint, guards take for granted that the big guys are going to get all the rebounds.
“That’s one of the areas of improvement we need to address.”