The Rebels get another shot at first place with nationally televised game at New Mexico

The Lobos’ victory at San Diego State on Wednesday means that UNLV would move back atop the Mountain West with a victory

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Mike Moser grabs a rebound from New Mexico forward A.J. Hardeman during their Mountain West Conference game Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the game 80-63.

Rebels to tip off against New Mexico

KSNV coverage of the Rebels hitting the road to play New Mexico, Feb. 17, 2012.

ALBUQUERQUE — Dave Rice doesn’t credit this to luck.

Saturday morning at 10 o'clock, No. 11 UNLV will play at New Mexico on CBS with first place on the line. If the Lobos (21-4, 7-2) win, they could run away with the league title. If the Rebels (22-5, 6-3) win, they would regain the Mountain West driver’s seat just days after suffering a bad loss at TCU.

Others may say UNLV is lucky to be in this position again, but UNLV's coach said the Rebels have earned the right to play in this game. Either way, the Rebels know that if they don’t capitalize on this chance, they may not get another one.

“Opportunity is coming knocking a third time, and it normally knocks once,” junior forward Quintrell Thomas said. “We need to take advantage and not let it slip through our fingers again.”

In a highly anticipated game at the Thomas & Mack Center earlier this year, UNLV sprinted out and crushed New Mexico 80-63. The Lobos haven’t forgotten.

“These guys, not too long ago, really beat us up at their place,” Lobos sophomore guard Kendall Williams said after Wednesday’s 77-67 victory at No. 13 San Diego State. "We’re a hot team right now and they’re obviously off a letdown loss.”

Added junior guard Jamal Fenton, “We owe payback to UNLV.”

That statement could apply to the Rebels’ two-game winning streak at The Pit, too. Last year, Thomas had 19 points and 14 rebounds in a 77-74 overtime victory, and two years ago, UNLV’s Kendall Wallace came off the bench and drilled seven 3-pointers in a 74-62 victory.

New Mexico has transformed itself since that 17-point loss on Jan. 21, going on a six-game winning streak capped by that huge victory against the Aztecs.

During the streak, New Mexico’s defense has allowed 50.3 points per game on 34.6 percent shooting from the field and just 25.2 percent behind the 3-point line. The Lobos are also shooting more than 5 percent better from the floor (47.9 to 42.4) than they had in their first three conference games.

Another key has been the return of point guard Hugh Greenwood. He missed a couple of games, including the conference opener against Wyoming, because of an ankle sprain and he wasn’t the same in losses to San Diego State and UNLV, scoring no points in either game. Since then, he’s averaging 6.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and two assists per game.

His return, combined with the increasingly stellar play of sophomore guard Kendall Williams and freshman guard Tony Snell, has solidified the backcourt.

“They’re far enough along now that they truly have learned to play without Dairese Gary,” Rice said of the player who led New Mexico in scoring last year and assists three of the past four seasons. “Any time you lose a four-year starting point guard, it takes a period of time. He was so important to what they did, and without question early in the year they were still learning how to play without him.”

The Lobos’ frontcourt is as good as ever, with senior forwards Drew Gordon and A.J. Hardeman creating matchup problems that will challenge UNLV’s trio of post players as well as sophomore forward Mike Moser, who played with Gordon at UCLA before both players transferred.

“It’s going to be another test on the road to stay together and see what we’re really made of,” Moser said.

New Mexico answered those questions in full Wednesday night. The Lobos controlled the Aztecs for most of the game, and played great in transition at both ends of the floor, which was a big problem in their loss at the Mack.

“To go in there and win, and to do it convincingly, is a credit to what they do,” Rice said. "It’s not just their defensive effort, but they’re clicking on all cylinders on the offensive end as well.”

So in order for UNLV to regain first place, it has to go into one of the most hostile environments in the country and beat a team that’s playing better than any team in the conference and maybe even the nation. Yeah, that doesn’t sound too lucky. But that’s a chance the Rebels will gladly take.

“Everything’s in line for us,” Moser said.

This is probably the last time the Rebels will be able to say that. Now they must capitalize on it.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. DO or die time tomorrow. If they lose tomorrow, there isn't gonna be anymore chances to make up for it. No letting up no matter how tired you get!

  2. Ok Fellas.....Game on!

  3. Time for the Rebels to make a statement, even though it's on the opposing teams home court. If the Rebels lose this game, it will underscore a lack of discipline and the focus to put opponents away when it counts. Too many close games that the Rebels should have won by blowout margins. I'm tired of seeing them make the NCAA, only to lose to some podunk team from who knows where. A win at New Mexico will be an important step towards a season worth remembering, and a decent seed in the NCAA tournament.

  4. Ok Rebels, I hope your bringing your A game to "The Pit" because UNM will certainly be playing theirs. UNM is playing the best basketball right now in the conference, but they can be beaten. Play smart, tough, pick up the defensive and never let up basketball. It's time to shake that road game jinx and shine on national television. Go Rebels...

  5. It's not gonna be nationally televised. My friend which lives in Arizona, told me the game they are gonna televise there is the UCLA vs St. John's game. It's gonna be on CBS but locally only, which sucks.

  6. ely,nv
    10:00 a.m.
    cbs
    ucla/st.john's
    WTF

  7. Wow. I was gonna say "this TV deal doesn't seem so bad after all." But if the game isn't even gonna be televised in the state (Ely, NV! really?!) what's the point of doing it at all? UCLA v. St. Johns is a terrible one to have on TV too. I don't get why the MWC isn't pushing for this exposure on a more national scale. I wonder what other states will actually be seeing this game.

  8. Feel sorry for unlv. Just right when we think the team would take off, they crash, and now burn tmr.

  9. Runnin Rebel fan holding it down in Omaha, NE - my tvguide says UNLV vs. UNM noon central

  10. I am in South Bend, IN and we are getting the UCLA-St. Johns game. I am ticked -- we obviously don't get to see many UNLV games televised here, and I had really been looking forward to this "nationally televised game." Guess I will be watching little dots run around on my computer screen as usual instead.

    I think today is the day we find out what kind of team we ultimately have. Wyoming should have been our wake-up call. While we always seem to say the right things, from the article covering our practice the other day it seems like the TCU loss got our attention. Winning at the Pit will be tough. We have the talent to do it. What I want to see most is for us to play hard for 40 minutes. I think we can win, but even if we don't, if we at least give it our all then I will hold out hope for our chances the rest of the way. But if we wither away again in the second half, then, well...

    Go Rebels! Let's pound the Lobos again like we did at the Mack.

  11. Stuck in LA with no coverage-CBS has the UCLA game. Anyone have a link to watch the game??

  12. Game can be seen on CBS here (sorry, a little late) http://www.cbssports.com/video/player/cb...

  13. 20 point pummelling! What a disappointment.

  14. Bet the Rebels are wishing that game wasn't nationally televised now. Way to embarrass yourselves on national TV Rebels!

  15. So much enthusiasm after non-conference, now utter dissappointment. On the other side, New Mexico is peaking at the right time. Rebels wouldn't have beat them at the T&M today. Wonder how much the Rebel's crash at the end of the season will hurt recruiting? I think a bunch. Coach Rice has lost alot of credibility in his coaching fundamentals and getting his team ready to play.

  16. Heres the story Rebel Fans......The Rebels got "RUN" by TCU and New Mexico.....and will drop in the ratings....they have become predictable on offense and defense, they are not creating turnovers and play the same man to man with no full court press or trapping game...they have no vertical game on offense and no 3 point offense of late and lack confidence in crunch time. They have some talent but that can only take you so far....The "RUNNING REBELS"? need to go back to the DRAWING BOARD as expectations are sky high and UNLV gets everyones BEST GAME these days.....3 weeks left till NCAA tourney time....lol