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CBKB: Nevada hosts winless Rebels tonight

JOE SANTORO For the Nevada Appeal

David Carter put the next challenge facing his young and struggling Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team in perspective this week.

“They are like a tiger and we’re like little kittens,” the Nevada head coach said of the No. 24-ranked UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, who will bring their unbeaten 7-0 record into Lawlor Events Center at 8 p.m. today to face the 1-5 Wolf Pack.

“We could play a perfect game and still lose,” Carter said. “They are that good.”

The Wolf Pack will take a five-game losing streak into the game against its in-state rivals of the Mountain West Conference. The Rebels are coming off an impressive 82-51 victory in Normal, Ill., on Wednesday night against Illinois State.

“Our kids just haven’t seen a team like that,” said Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich, whose team was riding high with a 5-1 record heading into its game with UNLV.

The Wolf Pack is not riding high. Their five-game losing streak, in fact, is the program’s longest dry spell since it lost six in a row in February 2000.

“We’re pretty much at bottom right now,” Carter said.

The Wolf Pack’s five losses have come all on the road to Pacific (64-53), Pepperdine (76-75), George Washington (58-56), Boston (66-57) and South Dakota State (82-65) on Tuesday.

“These kids are all used to winning,” Carter said. “They know what the history of this program is about. They are not happy at all. So right now they are a little down. Nobody wants to be 1-5.”

“It’s definitely been frustrating,” junior center Dario Hunt said. “Nobody wants to go on a losing streak, especially a five-game losing streak. But we’ll get it together.”

The Pack’s problems run from a lack of offense (less than 60 points in three of the losses), to turning the ball over too much (15.7 a game) to simply not knowing yet how to close out a game.

“It’s just a lot of little things that we need to correct,” said Hunt, who leads the Pack in scoring at 12.5 points a game.

Also hurting the Pack is the inconsistent play of freshman point guard Deonte Burton. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder, who is averaging 9.0 points and 4.2 assists, never found his shooting touch on the road, hitting just 23 percent (11-of-48) of his shots in the five losses and missing 18 of his 19 3-point attempts.

Carter, though, isn’t worried about his young point guard.

“He’s handled everything well,” Carter said. “He’s done a great job to this point.”

Carter has nursed a freshman point guard through a season before, guiding Ramon Sessions in 2004-05 and Armon Johnson in 2007-08 as an assistant coach under Mark Fox. Sessions and Johnson, though, had the benefit of having many more experienced players around them compared to Burton.

“Veteran players take the pressure off a young point guard,” said Carter, who was once a young point guard himself for St. Mary’s in the late 1980s. “Deonte has the added pressure compared to those guys of being a scorer and the pressure of running the team. But it’s not anything he can’t handle.”

Hunt, who is averaging 7.5 rebounds a game, insists that the Pack hasn’t lost any confidence.

“It’s not a problem for us to stay positive,” he said. “We know we’re a good team.”

The Wolf Pack also knows that UNLV just might be a great team. The Rebels are a deep team led by 6-8 forward Chace Stanback (16.4 points), 6-6 forward Derrick Jasper (8.0 points, 6.3 rebounds), 6-8 forward Quintrell Thomas (7.0 points) and guards Oscar Belfield (11.4 points, 4.1 assists), Anthony Marshall (9.9 points, 34 assists) and Tre’Von Willis (8.4 points).

Stanback played at UCLA in 2007-08, Willis played at Memphis in 2006-07 and Thomas played at Kansas in 2008-09.

The Rebels can also go big at times with role players Carlos Lopez (6-11) and Brice Massamba (6-10).

“We’re going to have to be ready to handle their pressure,” Carter said.

Bellfield scored 22 points a year ago in an 88-75 victory over the Wolf Pack in Las Vegas. The Pack, which has lost four games in a row to UNLV (and 52-of-71 in the all-time series), wasted a 54-42 lead with 14 minutes to play in the game a year ago.

“It’s our rival game,” Hunt said. “It will be a good atmosphere at home. I’m excited.”

It will be the Pack’s first home game in three weeks, since an 81-66 victory over Montana on Nov. 13.

“We’ll start to play better,” freshman guard Jordan Finn said. “We’re definitely learning from our mistakes. We’ll grow from this.”

The Pack is shooting just 40 percent from the field and 70 percent from the free throw line.

“There’s no way to go from here but up,” Carter said.

Carter said he stressed to his team that the season is only getting started.

“There is still a lot of basketball to be played,” he said. “We don’t like where we’re at but there’s a long way to go. You have to stay positive. For us, it’s not about winning and losing right now as it is continuing to get better. There’s no need to put our heads down.”