Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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Anthony Marshall said he doesn’t look ahead on the schedule.
When everybody’s asking him about the big game, he’s just focused on the next one. But this week is a little different.
“It just so happens that that next game is that one game that everybody’s been talking about,” Marshall said.
No. 14 UNLV hosts No. 13 San Diego State on Saturday at 1 p.m. The respective student sections have been going after each other on Twitter for several days. Tickets are all but gone.
This is the marquee game of the Mountain West season and both teams are in the middle of a week without a game leading up to it.
The Aztecs defeated TCU 83-73 at home last Saturday while the Rebels fell 68-66 at Wyoming.
That game has left the Rebels with a bad taste in their mouths. Unlike many expected, though, it hasn’t left them much farther down in the rankings.
UNLV entered the game on the cusp of the top 10 at No. 11 and fell only three spots to No. 14. Many fans were bracing for much worse.
“I think it speaks to our body of work and the fact that we’ve got a lot of good wins, that we’ve built up equity in terms of that so I think it’s a positive,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “It sends a strong message for where our program is.”
That loss was a difficult way to wrap up the first half of the conference season. But as he looks at the way the games have played out, Rice said he’s OK with a 5-2 record because the Rebels still have everything to play for.
“The good part is that we’re still in a situation where we’re within striking distance,” Rice said.
The Rebels are one game behind the Aztecs for first place. That means a win Saturday gives UNLV a chance at no worse than a tie for the conference title.
Considering the Rebels’ proficiency at home and the raucous crowd expected to be in attendance, that’s a good possibility. And a big part of making it happen is using this time off to their advantage.
Before UNLV’s 69-67 loss at San Diego State on Jan. 14, the Rebels had eight days in between games, their longest stretch of the season.
At that time, Rice was worried about keeping up the intensity in practice. With the Aztecs coming to town this time and six days in between games instead of eight, he said that’s not as much of a concern this time.
The Rebels had the day off Sunday, as they usually do, and then had a light practice Monday, in which they went over the Aztecs’ offense. They also watched game tape.
“We watched a lot of Wyoming film, then told the guys that’s the last time I’d talk about Wyoming,” Rice said.
Rice highlighted the defensive mistakes, the lack of urgency during crucial stretches of the game and then shut the door on the loss.
After taking Tuesday off, the Rebels are on the practice floor the rest of the week in preparation for Saturday. Last week’s loss still hurts, Marshall said, but there’s nothing to do about it now.
“A sign of a good team is that they’re not going to have a rollover effect where they lose one game and then lose another,” Marshall said.
UNLV has always had an answer this season. Saturday is the chance to answer the questions that have been asked for weeks.