Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Published Friday, Jan. 21, 2011 | 2:15 a.m.
Updated Friday, Jan. 21, 2011 | 5:30 p.m.
UNLV vs. New Mexico
UNLV Rebels (14-5, 2-3) vs. New Mexico Lobos (13-6, 1-3)
Where: Thomas & Mack Center
When: 1 p.m.
Coaches: Lon Kruger is 151-67 in his seven seasons at UNLV and 469-300 in 25 overall seasons; Steve Alford is 89-32 in four seasons at UNM and 397-215 in 20 overall seasons.
Series:UNLV leads 25-15.
Last time:UNM won, 76-66, in Las Vegas on Feb. 10, 2010.
Line: UNLV by 9.5
TV/Radio:Versus/ESPN Radio 1100 AM/98.9 FM
G Oscar Bellfield (6-2, 185, Jr.) 10.7 ppg, 3.9 apg, 2.5 rpg.
G Anthony Marshall (6-3, 200, So.) 10.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.6 apg.
G Derrick Jasper (6-6, 215, Sr.) 7.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.1 apg.
F Chace Stanback (6-8, 210, Jr.) 12.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg.
F Brice Massamba (6-10, 240, Jr.) 4.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg.
Bench:G Tre'Von Willis (6-4, 195, Sr.) 12.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.0 apg; F Quintrell Thomas (6-8, 245, So.) 5.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg; G Justin Hawkins (6-3, 190, So.) 6.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.3 apg; F Carlos Lopez (6-11, 215, Fr.) 4.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg; G-F Karam Mashour (6-6, 200, Fr.) 2.8 ppg.
What to watch: 3-point shooting will be big for UNLV in what is certain to be a fast-paced affair. In their last three games, the Rebels are a combined 9-of-57 from the arc. That's not going to cut it if UNLV is going to take this must-win affair from New Mexico.
G Dairese Gary (6-1, 205, Sr.) 13.7 ppg, 5.3 apg, 2.9 rpg.
G Kendall Williams (6-3, 170, Fr.) 11.6 ppg, 4.6 apg, 3.1 rpg.
G Phillip McDonald (6-5, 200, Jr.) 11.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg.
F Drew Gordon (6-9, 245, Jr.) 11.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg.
F A.J. Hardeman (6-8, 225, Jr.) 7.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg.
Bench: F-C Alex Kirk (6-11, 230, Fr.) 7.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg; G Jamal Fenton (5-9, 170, So.) 6.3 ppg, 2.1 apg; F Chad Adams (6-6, 190, So.) 3.9 ppg; G Tony Snell (6-7, 195, Fr.) 3.4 ppg.
What to watch: If it makes any sense, Dairese Gary is posting better numbers almost completely across the board than he did as a junior, but isn't having as good of a season as he did as a junior. His problem? Inconsistency. If he can figure it out, the Lobos are that much better. Though they lost, a week ago, in an 87-77 setback against San Diego State, he had 23 points, seven assists and only one turnover. UNM needs more of that from him.
But this one felt different than the others.
"The sense of urgency is way beyond what it was before," sophomore forward Quintrell Thomas said. "When we lost earlier in the season, there was one bad loss, and that was UC Santa Barbara. Now, we have potentially a couple of bad losses on our résumé, so the sense of urgency is great now.
"We're one of the bottom teams in the conference, below .500 in the conference and we have to focus on, basically, winning out, because nobody wants to go to the NIT."
UNLV's ultimate postseason fate is still a long way off, but the Rebels' most lopsided loss of the season served as a reality check.
The flow of the game was dictated for almost a full 40 minutes by the upstart Rams, and that seemed to be what stuck most with the Rebels, who ran a generous portion of full-court, uptempo drills during Thursday's practice back at the Mack.
Wednesday night was essentially a breaking point after more than a month of inconsistent play, which saw UNLV (14-5 overall, 2-3 MWC) put on all kinds of different performances.
They'd fought hard and come up just short (at San Diego State), shown extended flashes of the team that steam-rolled through everyone in November and early December (vs. TCU) and had to dig deep for a comeback win that was tougher than expected (at Air Force).
The Rebels didn't live and die by the outside shot on Wednesday as much as they have in recent outings, but they were notably out-hustled, which didn't sit well with the coaching staff.
"We've been all over the board, and we can't have that," coach Lon Kruger said. "We have to be consistent with our fight, consistent with our effort.
"I think given that we haven't shot it well. We have to fight, compete and get stops and try to get loose balls. That needs to be the identity because we can control that part. I think if we're just going to settle and have the result be based upon did we shoot it well, I don't think that would be a comfortable identity."
If you're looking for a silver lining, it's that the heightened sense of urgency couldn't come at a better time. Saturday's home tilt against New Mexico has now become much bigger for both teams than it already was going to be.
Like UNLV, UNM was an NCAA tournament team a year ago. However, the Lobos, who won the Mountain West's regular season title last season, have fallen off much further than the Rebels since then.
Saturday's winner will have new life breathed into its season as the mid-way point of the MWC schedule approaches, while the loser's résumé takes another massive hit.
From UNLV's perspective, the hope is that a win could help the Rebels get closer to playing the way they were in late November and early December during a 9-0 start to the season.
"Everything is a process. It was a process leading up to (the hot start) and it was a process leading up to how we're playing now," Thomas added. "It's definitely going to be a process getting back to where we were before. It's definitely a lot harder than anybody would think.
"I think we got a little complacent, and now we're paying for it."
A quick scouting report on New Mexico
• The Lobos' most important player a year ago, it could be argued, was point guard Dairese Gary. As a senior, he's averaging more points (13.7) and assists (5.3) than he did last season, but hasn't been nearly as consistent. He's averaging a career-worst 2.7 turnovers per game, but is still capable of stellar performances against top competition. Last Saturday, in an 87-77 home loss to San Diego State, he had 23 points, seven assists and no turnovers.
• New Mexico's other inconsistent star is junior UCLA transfer Drew Gordon. UNLV had Gordon in for a visit after he left the Bruins' program last winter, but never extended a scholarship offer. He was chosen as the MWC's preseason Newcomer of the Year, and has shown why at times. In that SDSU loss, he had 23 points and 14 boards, preceded by a 15-point, 16-rebound performance in a victory over Colorado State a few days earlier. If he's on, he can give the Rebels' struggling front line fits.
• The x-factor for UNM will be how its freshmen perform. 6-foot-3 guard Kendall Williams is shooting 50 percent from 3-point range and is second on the team in points per game (11.6). 6-foot-11 forward/center Alex Kirk came off of the bench for the first time in the Lobos' loss at Utah on Wednesday night, and is averaging 7.3 points and 5.1 rebounds a game. Kirk can spread a defense with his surprising shooting ability from the outside.
Willis's status for Saturday undetermined
Senior guard Tre'Von Willis, who has sat out of UNLV's last two games with a sore right knee, missed practice again on Thursday. He spent his time rehabbing with exercises on the stairs in the Mack's lower bowl alongside Kendall Wallace.
While Willis hasn't played to the same level this season that he did a year ago as a First Team All-MWC performer, his leadership and toughness has been sorely missed.
He again sat out all 5-on-5 drills on Friday, but did take part in shooting exercises, and Kruger will make Willis's status a game-time decision.
Smith on campus, will begin practice after UNM game
Redshirting Marquette transfer Reggie Smith showed up toward the tail end of Thursday's practice in street clothes with a backpack.
He's enrolled in classes and will begin practicing with the Rebels on either Sunday or Monday once he is fully cleared physically.
Smith, who started five of the eight games he played for Marquette this season, will be eligible for UNLV at the conclusion of the Fall 2011 semester as a redshirt sophomore with 2.5 years to play.