A Top 40-rated prospect in the recruiting Class of 2013, UNLV’s Christian Wood has played even better than advertised in his second season at the Mountain West Conference school.
The reigning national player of the week, who scored 24 points in a 71-67 victory over then-No. 3 Arizona on Dec. 23, takes a 15.7 scoring, 9.8 rebounding average into today’s 3:30 p.m. nonconference finale against (10-2) Kansas University in Allen Fieldhouse.
“Christian Wood is different from anybody you’ve ever seen because he’s really a guard who is 7-foot tall,” KU coach Bill Self said of the 6-11, 220-pounder out of Las Vegas Findlay Prep, who is projected to be the No. 22 pick in the NBA Draft by draftexpress.com. The Long Beach, California native scored a career-high 29 points, including UNLV’s first 19 points, in the (9-4) Rebels’ 76-71 loss to Wyoming on Wednesday in the MWC opener for both teams.
“He can take one bounce and go from here to the restroom back over there,” Self added of a restroom about 20 yards from the northwest tunnel of Allen Fieldhouse. “He’s ridiculously long and covers a lot of space real quick. They did a great job of isolating him in the post against Arizona.”
Wood, who hit 10 of 17 shots against Arizona, was 10 of 15 against Wyoming with four three-pointers made in six attempts. For the year, Wood, a 53 percent shooter overall, has hit 10 of 32 threes for 31.3 percent.
“I would say the key is on the ballscreens we have to be there right away so we can hurry up and get back to him on the shot,” KU junior forward Perry Ellis said of having a hand up on threes. “Play off of that and go from there.”
The Rebels’ leading scorer is 6-6 freshman Rashad Vaughn, who averages 17.9 ppg and is projected to be the 26th player in the draft according to draftexpress.com.
“I like their team,” Self said. “They’ve got a potential lottery pick in their starting five and a freshman putting up big numbers we are very familiar with because we recruited him (Vaughn of Findlay Prep). “He’s not a one-man band,” Self added of Wood. “They’ve got really good players to go with him.”
Freshman Goodluck Okonoboh, 6-10 from Boston, has 33 blocked shots. Wood has a team-leading 39 rejections for a UNLV team ranked fifth in the country in blocks at 7.2 per game.
“Just getting to the body of the shot blockers. Go at ’em,” the 6-8 Ellis said of strategy against length. “The key thing is just getting post touches. If you don’t have a shot, kick it out and get another good shot.”
Jelan Kendrick, a 6-6 senior, averages 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds a game. Point guard Cody Doolin is a transfer from San Francisco where he played for former KU guard Rex Walters. The 6-3 senior has 60 assists against 20 turnovers while chipping in 6.9 ppg.
The Jayhawks are wary of the Rebels, who have beaten Temple (57-50), a team that defeated KU by 25 points. UNLV has lost to Stanford, Arizona State, Utah and Wyoming.
“They are a good team. They beat Arizona,” Ellis stated.
KU also is aware of similarities between this game and a home loss to Mountain West member San Diego State last Jan. 5, a game that took place on the same weekend most Big 12 teams were opening conference play. Only KU and Iowa State are not playing conference games this weekend.
“This is a conference game from a talent standpoint and competitive standpoint,” Self said. “I’m sure Dave (Rice, UNLV coach) would tell you the same thing — nonconference games are important but aren’t as important as conference season.
“We’re looking at this a little bit different. Since we don’t have a break, this is kind of our first game of our conference season because everybody else in our league plays on Saturday.
“Last year maybe I didn’t handle it very well. The results weren’t very good (against S.D. State). We’re going to approach this as a game we’re going to hopefully have the same energy as what we’ve had going in conference play,” Self added.
This, that: UNLV’s Vaughn and Kendrick have been slowed by the flu this week, the Las Vegas Sun reported. ... Today’s game will follow the NFL’s AFC wild card game on CBS. ... KU is the third top-15 team UNLV has faced in the last 16 days. UNLV lost to then No. 14 Utah and beat then No. 3 Arizona in Las Vegas. ... The win over Arizona was the Rebels’ first over a team ranked as high as No. 3 at Thomas & Mack Center since 1988 when they defeated No. 3 Temple. The Dave Rice-coached Rebels defeated then No. 1 North Carolina in 2011. ... KU is 4-0 all-time vs. UNLV. Last meeting was KU’s 75-56 victory in the second round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament in Omaha.
UNLV coach on game: “Kansas is great every single year,” Rebels’ coach Rice told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Bill Self will be in the Hall of Fame. This is the type of game we need to play as we try to build an elite program ourselves. When you talk about the best programs in history, you don’t talk much before you get to Kansas. You might not talk about any before getting to Kansas.”