unlv basketball:

UNLV prepares for its final chance to get things right on the road at Colorado State

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Anthony Marshall drives in for a dunk on Colorado State during their Mountain West Conference game Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the game 82-63.

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The next plane UNLV boards will be the last one it takes home from a road game this season. In conference play especially, those have been some frustrating trips filled with thoughts of near-misses and blown opportunities.

The Rebels’ last chance to break that trend comes tonight at 7:15 in Moby Arena, where Colorado State hasn’t lost since Nov. 19.

Colorado State (17-10, 6-6) hosts No. 17 UNLV (24-6, 8-4) on CBS College Sports in a battle of two teams currently ranked in the top 15 in the country for home-court winning streaks. The Rebels, who rank 11th with 15 straight home wins, will need to conjure up some of that Thomas & Mack magic to take down the Rams, who rank 14th with 12 in a row.

Colorado State’s streak includes a perfect 6-0 conference mark that was capped by a 71-63 victory against New Mexico last week. Entering that game, the Lobos had a two-game conference lead with four to play. Two road losses later and the Lobos find themselves in a three-way tie for first with UNLV and San Diego State.

“We’re in a good spot,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said, “but (tonight) will be a difficult challenge to say the least.”

The top five teams in the league are a combined 28-2 at home in conference season. The Rebels have felt the brunt of that stat, going more than a month without a road conference victory (The last road victory was a 65-63 win in overtime at Air Force on Jan. 28).

Last week’s pair of home victories got UNLV feeling good about itself again, particularly on defense. The Rebels gave up 58 points in each game, which is just more than half of what they gave up in a 102-97 overtime loss at TCU on Feb. 14.

That game is a lesson about closing out opponents, but tonight’s game will more closely resemble the battle for first place at New Mexico on Feb. 18. The Rams are playing for an outside shot at the regular-season title, for conference-tournament seeding and, most importantly, for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Moby Arena isn’t The Pit, but CSU fans know what’s at stake, and they will make the environment as difficult as possible.

“Coach (Tim) Miles has built a solid program,” Rice said. “We know the energy that they will bring (tonight) because of what it means for their NCAA Tournament potential.”

The Rams’ hopes looked bleak after a one-point loss at Boise State on Feb. 15, but now they’re in a position where they can probably play themselves in with a victory against UNLV and another good win in the Mountain West tournament. And while this is Colorado State’s Senior Night, the stage belongs to its juniors.

The Rams’ top four scorers are all juniors, including leading scorer Wes Eikmeier (15.9 points per game), who finished with 18 in an 82-63 loss at the Mack on Feb. 1. That game was a bit closer than the score indicates, but for the most part the Rebels controlled the action. The ultimate difference, as is often the case in UNLV victories, was the Rebels’ ability to work together to play swarming defense that turned into instant offense.

UNLV's best hopes of recapturing that style rests with senior small forward Chace Stanback, who excelled in both victories last week, and sophomore forward Mike Moser, who's been struggling a bit recently but is still the Rebels' most explosive player. That's where the momentum likely has to start. To come home with a victory, it's got to go far beyond that.

“Not one man is going to get it done by himself,” junior guard Anthony Marshall said. “It’s going to take a collective group.”

Marshall said just one or two guys playing well, as has been the case in most of the Rebels’ road games, isn’t going to be enough at Colorado State. The Rams rank among the national leaders in 3-point percentage (sixth, 41 percent), free-throw percentage (sixth, 76.7 percent) and field-goal percentage (26th, 47.5 percent). Much like the Rebels, they often have four players on the court who can shoot from the perimeter.

When talking about this game, Rice used the term “big deal” a few times, but he also doesn’t want to take that too far. UNLV isn’t playing for its NCAA Tournament life, like Colorado State is.

This is more of a personal quest to get just one more road victory, and if they can, to do it in decisive fashion. This is yet another chance at first place. Another chance to go the Denver International Airport with a win.

“I don’t think we want to make it more than it is,” Rice said. “It’s a big deal, but it’s one game, albeit a game that means a lot because of where we are in the conference race.”

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

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  1. Let's not forget, CSU is a team fighting for its life to get an at large bid. As of yesterday, they are one of Lunardi's last 4 OUT. They need another big win, and no doubt they are going to give us everything they have to get another signature win.

    The Rebels need to come out and match their energy the entire game, keep pressure on their shooters, and keep them off the free throw line (where they've dominated the conference in getting to, and making shots).

    Rebels!

  2. "When talking about this game, Rice used the term "big deal" a few times, but he also doesn't want to take that too far. UNLV isn't playing for its NCAA Tournament life, like Colorado State is.

    This is more of a personal quest to get just one more road victory, and if they can, to do it in decisive fashion. This is yet another chance at first place. Another chance to go the Denver International Airport with a win.".....

    Seriously?!!! It's comments like that which make me wish that Case Keefer gets a permanent position and replaces Taylor & Ray in covering the Rebels. At least Case gets it and is a realistic writer....Where's Case?

    In a few weeks we will be fighting for our NCAA tournament life....We need to treat this game as a "Big Deal" to prove to ourselves that we can win on the road when it counts and facing a one & done situation. In the NCAA tourney everyone will be playing like CSU will be playing....this is a big test for us and shouldn't be taken lightly.

    We need to play hard, stay disciplined, and prepare properly for this game. Whatever it is we've been doing to prepare for road games this year has to be changed/modified....we need to make adjustments and stay focused.

  3. Dave Rice is even-keeled and i think the article reflects that.

  4. This is a tournament game for CSU tonight. This is basically their make it or break it game for a chance at NCAA post season play, and it will challenge the Rebels in a good way to see how they will fight under immense pressure on the road. This is going to be a tough game to call. 70-67 UNLV. Man, I hope they can win out strong though.

  5. Still think the chances of UNLV winning tonight are slim but they do have a fighting chance. To me it is all about imposing their style of play. If Coach Rice commits to pressing, playing a fast pace game and using the bench this is a very winable game. If the Rebels are content to play a half court game and walk it up like they did in their last road game at UNM, they are in deep trouble against a team with guys like Greene, Eikmeier and Hornung that excel in a half court set offensive game. Get them running Coach Rice!

  6. The forst time they palyed was a frustrating game to watch....If you recall CSU scored or got to the free throw line inthe first half several times on simple pump fakes from jumpshots that the Rebs defenders bit on time and time again....Smart on their part....I hope the Rebs just stay home and make them score over them.