North Carolina got a first-hand look last season at how dangerous UNLV can be, as the top-ranked Tar Heels suffered an unexpected setback in Las Vegas.
With freshman Anthony Bennett helping lead the charge for the 20th-ranked Runnin' Rebels this season, North Carolina coach Roy Williams believes they would more than hold their own in the ACC.
UNLV seeks a 10th straight victory Saturday when it visits the unranked Tar Heels in the last non-conference game for both teams.
Mike Moser's 16 points and 18 rebounds helped UNLV pull off a 90-80 upset of No. 1 North Carolina on Nov. 26 of last season, but a dislocated right elbow suffered in a win over California on Dec. 9 will keep him from attempting to repeat that performance.
The Tar Heels also will be missing a key player, announcing early Saturday that starter Reggie Bullock won't play due to a mild concussion suffered in practice Thursday. The junior forward leads the ACC in 3-point shooting at 47.5 percent and ranks second on the team with 13.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
Bullock's absence could make it easier for the surging Rebels (11-1) to put a signature victory on their resume. They're coming off an 89-74 win over Canisius last Saturday as Bennett scored 21 points.
He leads all freshmen, averaging 19.5 points, and he's hit 57.4 percent of his shots in the four games Moser has been out.
"I saw Anthony play a lot (on the AAU circuit), 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."
Williams seems most impressed, though, by the fact UNLV is among the nation's leaders defensively, holding opponents to 37.1 percent from the field.
"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."
Rebels coach Dave Rice, whose team's only loss was an 83-79 home defeat to unranked Oregon on Nov. 23, similarly praised North Carolina (9-3), which has won 63 consecutive non-conference home games after last Saturday's 97-63 victory over McNeese State.
"We've learned a lot from the Oregon experience," Rice said. "Now we have a great opportunity against a storied program like North Carolina and a coach like Roy Williams, and we will put up a great fight. It should be a great environment and a great basketball game."
Neither Rice nor Williams is putting much stock in last season's meeting given each squad possesses much different lineups. Aside from Bennett, UNLV added freshman starter Katin Reinhardt and USC transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones, who has started the last 11 games.
Freshmen Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige and Joel James are earning solid minutes for the Tar Heels.
"The big question is, 'Can my new team play better than my old team did there last year,'" Williams said.
The current Tar Heels team has had its share of struggles, too, suffering big defeats against Butler, Indiana and most recently Texas on Dec. 19.
Though their blowout victory last week against an inferior opponent isn't much to brag about, sophomore P.J. Hairston, who hit 3 of 5 from 3-point range and scored 15 points versus UNLV last year, said it's a step in the right direction.
"A win always makes you feel better."