MOUNTAIN WEST TOURNAMENT:

After pushing Air Force aside, 69-53, UNLV sets up another shot at No. 7 SDSU

Rebels, Aztecs to square off in Friday’s second semifinal with NCAA seeding implications on both sides

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV’s Carlos Lopez (L) and Derrick Jasper congratulate Tre’Von Willis at the conclusion of their Mountain West Conference Championship game against Air Force Thursday, March 10, 2011 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the game 69-53.

MWC Tournament - UNLV vs. Air Force

UNLV guard Justin Hawkins celebrates a play against Air Force during their Mountain West Conference Championship game Thursday, March 10, 2011 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the game 69-53. Launch slideshow »

UNLV vs. Air Force

KSNV coverage of UNLV vs. Air Force in Mountain West Conference Tournament, March 10, 2011.

The Rebel Room

AIR FORCE POSTGAME: UNLV surging in tournament

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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer talk their way through the first day of the Mountain West Conference Tournament and discuss whether UNLV can beat San Diego State in the semifinals.

All UNLV had to do was push aside Air Force in Thursday's Mountain West Conference tournament quarterfinal round nightcap to set the stage for what could be an epic night of college hoops at the Thomas & Mack Center on Friday.

No sweat.

Against an opponent that has rarely beat UNLV in recent years yet found ways to frustrate Lon Kruger's teams on a regular basis, the Rebels were efficient, confident and at times ruthless in a 69-53 waxing of the Falcons.

And now comes the fun part.

UNLV (24-7) will take on seventh-ranked San Diego State (30-2) for the third time this season with major NCAA tournament seeding implications on the line for both teams.

They'll tip off at 8:30 p.m. at the Mack, following the conclusion of the 6 p.m. semifinal between eighth-ranked BYU (29-3) and surging New Mexico (24-11).

"It's always going to be a tough game against them — we know each other so well," UNLV senior guard Tre'Von Willis said of the Aztecs. "We've practically got the same sets. It's just a matter of who comes and plays more physical, basically wants it more."

Being physical with the Aztecs hasn't been the problem of late for the Rebels. Instead, it's simply been making shots.

If current trends keep up for UNLV, though, Friday night could be a good spot for Lon Kruger's club.

The hot shooting that made them look so impressive in the final four games of the regular season carried over into the start of the Rebels' postseason against the Falcons.

A wide margin was created early by a bevy of falling 3-pointers for UNLV, and steadily hitting more and more of them helped it stay that way. On the night, the Rebels were 11-of-20 from the outside and 24-of-48 from the floor.

The 11 trifectas tied a season high, while the 69 points were the most the team scored in three tries against Air Force this season. All night, the Rebels were successful in providing their own energy. The UNLV fans, strangely, did not turn out with as much force as those of BYU, New Mexico and San Diego State did earlier in the day.

Willis scored 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting, rounding out a strong night with seven rebounds, eight assists and only one turnover. After a couple of his later buckets, Willis interacted with the crowd a good amount in celebration.

Chace Stanback also tallied 20, doing most of his damage from deep, hitting six of his eight 3-point tries.

Inside, surging Quintrell Thomas had an active 21 minutes on the floor with eight points, six rebounds and a career-high five blocked shots.

Oddly enough, though, the three Rebels who had the biggest nights individually are three guys who have struggled against the long, physical, athletic Aztecs this season, making Friday's clash that much more intriguing.

Willis was hobbled some by his lingering knee issues in both meetings, and was a combined 2-of-12 from beyond the arc. Stanback, who averages a shade under 13 points a game, has 13 points combined in 62 minutes against SDSU and is 0-for-7 from deep. Thomas, who is averaging 13.5 points and 8.5 rebounds over his last four games, has only played 15 minutes in the two games combined, struggling to find his footing against one of the nation's top frontcourts.

Both regular season meetings were close and came down to the final minute despite UNLV playing sub-par basketball in each contest.

"We're playing as well as we've played all year," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "Again, shooting the ball well like we've been helps a lot. Sometimes it will cover some other things when you're making shots. When you're not, everything else is magnified. Our guys know how tough it's going to be. San Diego State is playing great. It will be a huge challenge."

SDSU wasn't necessarily pretty in a 64-50 victory over Utah earlier in the evening, but the Aztecs look to have as much swagger to them as they have had all season.

On the line for Steve Fisher's team is a possible open door back into talks for a No. 1 seed with a successful run through the rest of the tournament, while a No. 2 would be no shabby consolation prize.

UNLV is trying to keep itself from being vulnerable to landing in one of the dreaded No. 8 or No. 9 slots come Selection Sunday, and a victory like this would likely boost its profile enough to eliminate that possibility.

The Rebels also have plenty of frustration built up to this point in this series, having lost seven of their last eight to the Aztecs and now four in a row.

"Our goal is trying to win this thing," Willis said. "San Diego State is in our way right now. We want to win regardless of whether it's four straight or if we're coming off of a win against them."

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  1. UNLV fans better turn out in force tonight. It's pretty embarrassing that every other school from out of town had more fans that were a lot more excited turn out then UNLV's fans did on their home court. I don't live in Vegas anymore so can't make it to the games but if I lived there I would be in the Mack supporting them. Let's go Vegas, turn out for your team. How do you ever expect to lure a MLB, NBA team if you don't turn out for your own school during tournament time.

  2. Great win for the rebels, glad we made up for the two previous grinders vs Air Force. We had 8 blocks! 5 of them belonged to Quintrell Thomas! - Great job QT

    People have to be feeling really good about Rebels' chances against SDSU given our shooting percentage, evenly distributed offensive production, and win streak. Hope very much that we can pull off a win against over-rated SDSU.

    IF we can shoot the 3 like we did last night, we definitely win the game.

    www.RebelReign.com

  3. Right on mj. As a long time Rebel fan living in PA I would love to be able to attend tonight's game. Reb fans....get out and support your team tonight.

    Despite the poor shooting against SDSU in their earlier meetings, the Rebels were in both games. The team appears to be hitting its stride and peaking at the right time and I feel confident the 4 game losing streak against SDSU ends tonight at the T&M.

    GO REBELS!

  4. Rebel fans are trying... But Scalpers are trying to rip people off... The only seats that are even close to reasonable for tonight they are trying to charge 100+ for in the upper bowl...

    And they are snatching up everything before anyone even has a chance at them...

  5. The only difference between you in other states an us in las Vegas is unemployment. Unlike the rest of the country we in las Vegas are still not working and i don't have the $40 a ticket for me and my wife while having no job. It just sucks and I'm sure that has something to do with it. I bet more people turn out tonight and if they win then Ill find a way to make it out for sat game even though i get only $320 a week for unemployment. No excuse but just know its harder here then in other states Love the rebels.

  6. Ryan,

    I think the UNLV students didn't show up as much because traditionally, the Air Force game is simply boring.

    I know its a tournament game, but honestly, the slow tempto has never drawn the crowd during the season. Add in school, unfortunately, and it isn't worth the money.

    Its Friday now though, no school, and a HUGE game.

  7. Eh, that doesn't sell me, gats. That's no more of a boring game than San Diego State against Utah, yet about 500 members of The Show were packed together in the upper deck and roaring the whole time. Just sayin' ...

  8. I will say that it is painful to watch Air Force basketball. They'd fit in well with the bottom tier of the Big Ten.

    That being said, I was there watching the game from the upper deck and cheering as loud as possible. We even made two Air Force fans sitting in the row in front of us get up and leave because we kept making jokes about the Falcons.

    I was impressed with the fact we put up 69 points against Air Force. Not only was that 20 more than our last meeting, but we scored the most points of any team yesterday in the MWC against the team that is the slowest to play against.

    I really think we will get SDSU tonight. Even in beating up Utah pretty good last night, they didn't look especially great. They obviously took the foot off the gas a bit, but I still think they can be had. Given the way we have been shooting the ball the last two weeks, compared to how poorly we shot the ball against SDSU in the other two meetings (which we easily could have won), I wouldn't be shocked if we won this game pretty convincingly.

    I'll be getting down there for the early game too. It's nice with UNM, SDSU and UNLV all left, everyone in red can ban together to root against the guys in blue. Good times!

  9. I don't understand how all the out of towners are upset with locals not showing up when they said they saw all the fans of the other schools in the conference there. If they made it out, why couldn't you?

    As to why "The Show" had 500 students packed together in the upper decks, I assume SDSU did what UNLV does (or at least did last season) when we play at Reno for football. The school probably bought the section out in bulk, sold them to students, and most likely chartered buses there for them.

    When your team is ranked 7 and 8 in the country respectfully, of course you're going to show up. I guarantee you "The Show" would have been a "No Show" this year if the team wasn't having the season it was.

    You want students to show up, have UNLV buy a section out and let the students purchase the tickets through the student ticket website, like we normally do. Knowing I am getting a legit ticket from UNLV and not risking a scalped one would have me and a bunch of my friends and fellow students at the game.

  10. I think a lot of people are used to getting tickets "day of" and it's just not working that way this year with two top ten teams in town. Seems like the MWC is pushing the "all session" tix more this year, too, and I don't think it was even possible to buy plaza single session tickets. All that and UNLV is the late game vs. AF, the most boring and painful team to watch in the conference, did not help at all...especially if you've been there since 11:30 that morning. Just not a conducive situation for the home town fans.

  11. I for one would NEVER rip on the AFA. Those kids are the BEST this country has to offer- and they play a pretty decent game of basketball too. Embarrassing to hear a grown man brag about how he made two AF fans leave because they were ragging on the AF players. Grow up.

  12. MWC Tournament Session 6 - Men's Semifinals is sold out. I usually buy my tickets session by session and this year I can't go to the semifinals. Hopefully if UNLV wins I can still get tickets to the championship on Saturday.

  13. Who said I was ragging on the Air Force players? We were mostly making comments about their style of play and how boring they are to watch. Please make sure you know what the heck you are talking about before you come in here and try to be the moral police. Two days ago you refer to NBA players as "a bunch of illiterates" and then come on here and judge what I say? Give me a break.

    And even had I been talking trash about the players themselves, they're the only team that is off limits because they are the Air Force Academy? I'm not screaming obscenities; I'm not making personal attacks about players; I'm not yelling out anti-Air Force or anti-military comments. Everything I said to my friends, not to the Air Force fans near us, was completely related to the basketball game. So you do me a favor and take your high-and-mighty BS somewhere else. Go talk to those morons who make the anti-Mormon signs or start the "F! U! BYU!" chants every time we play them.

    But if it makes you feel better, I apologize for making basketball-related jokes about the Air Force basketball team and it's style (or lack there of) of play. I did not realize that by making comments about the basketball team, I was attacking the Air Force as a whole, and indeed the very fiber of America. And I apologize to you AJ for insulting your obviously heightened sense of morality; I didn't realize a message board comment could make you blush.

  14. MTDice,
    As one of the "out of towners"...from Pennsylvania I would love to be able to afford flights, hotel accomodations,tickets etc to attend the MWC Tournament, but it's way too expensive given the current economic times even in PA. Fans from other schools, don't have to travel as far and generally are able to get package deals. I understand the current economic situation in LV (have friends in Henderson), but it would be nice to turn the T&M into a true home court advantage. Hopefully the student turnout is better.

    Best of luck to the Rebels tonight and into the NCAA.

  15. Big win against air force. Tonight is going to take a complete effort from both the coaches and players. Forty minutes of hell! Go Rebs!

  16. Upon hearing from the MWC facebook page that there were less than 1000 tickets available for the Championship, I bought tickets.

    I really hope UNLV wins tonight because I really have no interest in going to a game between BYU/UNM and SDSU. lol

  17. don't even trip MikeLange, I wrote off rose1414 after the "bunch of illiterates" comment. I can appreciate sensitivity to a certain degree, but that is just ridiculous.

  18. Just an FYI to the students: I heard that UNLV is giving away FREE student tickets for tonight's game.

    They are setting up ticket handouts in between the STUDENT entrance and the BOX OFFICE in the tunnel. It's first come, first serve 90 minutes before tip-off. Must have a Student ID.

    I'm not sure if it must be valid and scannable (aka Current Student status) or if you need to be a full-time student, but just wanted to let everyone know! I still think UNLV should have put the tickets on student ticketing, but at least there's an effort to get students there! Pack the Mack!

    Go Rebels!

  19. MTDice--

    how did you hear about this deal for students?? are you sure it is for real?

  20. It was on Facebook. I saw it on a post because I was a "fan" of UNLV. I want to say it was organized by UNLV's CSUN. It looked legit to me. I get off of work too late to check it out myself, but I have friends who are gonna try for tickets.

    My employer blocks Facebook so I can't get on to check myself, but I believe if you FAN the site (UNLV or UNLV CSUN), you'll see the event for Moutain West Conference ticket giveaway (or something along those lines).

  21. It was on the UNLV facebook thing. I saw it to. I remember they did the same thing two years ago when I was still a student. Its between the Cox and the T&M; probably on the raised platform area out there. They will start handing out at 7, only 100 tickets going out I believe

  22. Mike- are you a grown man? Then act like one.

  23. As opposed to coming on a message board and turning comments about a basketball game into a personal attack on the military? I realize you want us all to think you are this incredibily sophisticated individual, but you really just come off as a pompous jerk. Again, stop pretending to be the morality police and take your self-righteous BS somewhere else. Guess what? If every few articles, you are having issues with a different person... that means you are the problem.

  24. Sorry Mikey- not the morality or board police. Free world- you can say what you want. Bottom line- when a grown man acts all proud of himself because his comments made a couple of other fans move- it shows what a moron he is. Like I said before- GROW UP. Don't blame me because you have little self esteem.