Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Jan. 20, 2012 | 2 p.m.
- UNLV players, coaches celebrate donors at Mendenhall Center opening ceremony
- Anthony Marshall continues dominant stretch with 27 points in 101-78 victory against TCU
- Here come the Rebels: Mendenhall Center puts UNLV on par with Duke, other national powers
- Former coach Lon Kruger proud of what UNLV has built
- Instant Analysis: No hangover for UNLV after Saturday setback, Rebels hit century mark
- BOX SCORE: UNLV 101, TCU 78
- 2011-12 UNLV Men's Basketball Schedule
- All UNLV Men's Basketball Coverage
Rarely has a game this early in the conference season meant so much for the UNLV basketball team.
The Rebels host New Mexico today at 7:15 p.m. in a game both Mountain West Conference teams are desperate to win. Both have aspirations for the league's regular-season title, but because of their respective losses to San Diego State, the loser of Saturday’s game will likely be two games behind the Aztecs.
And in a shortened, 14-game conference season, that doesn’t leave much room for error.
After Wednesday’s 101-78 victory against TCU, UNLV coach Dave Rice said that both teams would be playing with desperation. On Thursday he reiterated that idea.
“We need to be desperate every game, not because we lost to San Diego State, but because that’s the mindset he have to have,” Rice said. “When we’re the aggressors, when we’re a desperate team, we’re willing to do what it takes on the court to win basketball games.”
Against the Lobos, that starts with neutralizing 6-foot-9 forward Drew Gordon, who averages 12.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.
This contest will probably be tough to watch for at least one of these two fan bases, but the group that will really cringe is UCLA. That’s because Gordon and UNLV’s Mike Moser were teammates at UCLA before both decided to transfer.
A starting front court featuring those two conference player of the year candidates is a scary thought. Moser said his former teammate has expanded his game to a whole new level since their days as Bruins.
“Just how much he can really control the game, whether it’s scoring or rebounding or changing shots,” Moser said. “His presence is so important for that team.”
In games against elite big men earlier this season — particularly against Illinois’ Meyers Leonard — the Rebels opted to double-team the post early in the game. Moser said he doesn’t think that’s the best strategy.
“We’re going to give him different looks, try and keep him off the block, make him beat us from about 15 feet, where he’s a little uncomfortable,” Moser said.
If the Rebels rely mostly on one-on-one coverage with help-side assistance on Gordon, then the task will primarily fall to Brice Massamba and Quintrell Thomas, guys that have the size to push Gordon off the block.
Of course, keeping Gordon in check doesn’t guarantee a victory. Guards Tony Snell (12.8 points per game) and Kendall Williams (11.9) both attack from the outside.
As a team, New Mexico hits eight 3-pointers per game. And with the importance that Rice has put on perimeter defense, that has him as worried as anything.
“What good teams are is balanced, and that’s what makes it difficult,” Rice said. “We have to do a good job on Drew Gordon in terms of limiting his opportunities, but it’s hard to put more than one guy on (him) because we leave (other guys) open, and that’s dangerous.”
While UNLV was polishing off its rout against TCU, the Lobos saw a 10-0 lead vanish and suffered a 75-70 loss to the Aztecs on their home court.
Snell was 0-for-5 from the floor. Backup guards Hugh Greenwood and Demetrius Walker, who played AAU basketball with UNLV’s Justin Hawkins, combined to shoot 0-for-8.
Last year, a Lobos loss at home to the Aztecs sparked a three-game losing streak that included a 63-62 defeat at the Mack.
With expectations raised this year, the Lobos will fight with every ounce of energy to ensure that doesn’t happen again. It’s up to the Rebels to match their desperation.
“That (losing) feeling sucks,” Moser said. “I know how big it is, it kind of helps give you a little jolt for the next game. I know they’re going to be hungry and come after us really hard.”