UNLV endured some ups and downs during its final two games in the Global Sports Classic last week, but Anthony Bennett performed at a consistently high level.
The freshman will try to deliver another standout effort Wednesday night when the 24th-ranked Runnin' Rebels host UC Irvine.
UNLV (3-1) suffered its first loss of the season Friday, falling 83-79 to Oregon in a back-and-forth game, but it bounced back Saturday for a decisive 82-70 win over Iowa State in the consolation game of its tournament at the Thomas and Mack Center.
"With five returning guys and eight new faces, growing pains is what we're going to go through," coach Dave Rice said. "We feel like sooner rather than later we're going to be a good basketball team, and we're making progress in that direction."
Bennett scored 22 points in each game and is averaging 19.5 on 55.6 percent shooting while pulling down 8.3 rebounds per contest. He also blocked four shots against the Cyclones.
With his help, UNLV will try to beat UC Irvine and Hawaii at home this week before having to leave the Thomas and Mack Center for nearly three weeks because of the National Finals Rodeo. The Rebels will have one game in Las Vegas over that stretch, at the Orleans Arena against La Verne on Dec. 13.
"We have a lot of new guys, but it's not an excuse," Rice said. "We need to grow up quickly because we've got some tough games coming up. Certainly, the early season games give us a chance to get better."
Having nearly upset one ranked opponent earlier this season, the Anteaters could qualify as one of those tough games. UC Irvine (3-4) took then-No. 13 UCLA to overtime Nov. 13 before falling 80-79, but it heads to Las Vegas having lost three in a row.
The Anteaters shot a season-low 34.3 percent in Saturday's 72-62 defeat at Pepperdine. Leading scorer Daman Starring (13.7 ppg) matched a season high with 25 points after coming off the bench for the first time in two seasons, but only one other player - Chris McNealy with 15 - scored in double figures.
"I expect us to be an aggressive team and we weren't tonight," coach Russell Turner told UC Irvine's official athletics website. "We were passive for about the first 36 minutes and we have to get that corrected."
Michael Wilder, the team's top scorer last season, has been held to five points or fewer in each of the last two games and three of the past four.
UNLV has faced UC Irvine 40 times, winning 31, but the two schools haven't played since Dec. 23, 1997, when the Rebels earned a 77-55 home win.
The Anteaters earned their most recent win in the series Jan. 20, 1996, in a Big West Conference matchup at home. UNLV left the league after that season.