Even with a tough Big 12 opener up next, Kansas can’t afford to look ahead.
The No. 13 Jayhawks’ near two-year run of perfection against unranked opponents at Allen Fieldhouse could be put to the test Sunday against UNLV, which recently defeated one of the nation’s top teams.
Three days after this game, Kansas (10-2) kicks off the Big 12 slate by visiting a No. 22 Baylor team which has won 12 straight at home.
The Jayhawks’ overall home win streak is at 15, including six this season. However, they had trouble with the only two high-profile teams they’ve hosted, trailing by 15 at halftime of a 71-65 win over Florida in Lawrence and holding off then-No. 13 Utah 63-60 in Kansas City on Dec. 13.
UNLV (9-4) put up a good fight against the Utes a week later, having trailed by one midway through the second half before losing 59-46. In their next game Dec. 23, the Runnin’ Rebels pulled off a 71-67 upset of an Arizona team which had been ranked No. 3 and entered 12-0.
Now they’ll look to halt Kansas’ run of 19 consecutive home victories over unranked teams, dating to a loss to Oklahoma State on Feb. 2, 2013. The Jayhawks’ only defeat in their last 24 home games against non-conference opponents came to another Mountain West Conference team, 61-57 to San Diego State last Jan. 5.
UNLV is 6-4 in its last 10 non-conference matchups with ranked teams.
Not only do the Runnin’ Rebels boast the Mountain West’s top scorer in Rashad Vaughn (17.9 points per game), they have the conference’s hottest player – one that seriously concerns Kansas coach Bill Self. Christian Wood has averaged 25.0 points on 65.9 percent shooting in the last three games, and the sophomore leads the MWC with 9.8 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game.
"UNLV is long. Christian Wood is great, 7-foot and can play the three spot," Self said. "We’ll have to come up with some things to stop them, but especially him."
A big key for the Jayhawks could be getting leading scorer Perry Ellis going. In their two losses, Ellis has totaled nine points and five rebounds while shooting 2 for 16. He’s scored in double figures in all but one of the 10 wins while averaging 7.2 boards.
A game after being held to five points in a 77-52 loss at Temple, Ellis scored 15 and grabbed eight rebounds in a 78-62 win over Kent State on Tuesday.
"We have been getting after it in practice and working really hard," Ellis said. "We are looking forward to leaving some things behind."
The star for the Jayhawks lately, though, has been Kelly Oubre Jr. The freshman forward has joined the starting lineup for the past three games, averaging 17.3 points and 8.0 boards while going 8 of 15 from 3-point range.
Oubre scored 20 on 8-of-12 shooting Tuesday.
"There is no question he has more confidence in himself and everybody has more confidence in him," Self said. "He’s played very well."
The Rebels’ confidence might have taken a hit New Year’s Eve with a 76-71 home loss to Wyoming in their conference opener. Wood had a career-high 29 points and Vaughn added 16, but poor defense did in UNLV. The Cowboys shot 53.8 percent.
Coach Dave Rice’s club has allowed an average of 75.3 points in its losses, compared to 58.2 in its wins.
Kansas has won all four meetings with UNLV, most recently in the second round of the 2008 NCAA tournament.