Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Published Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 | 7 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 | 10:22 p.m.
New Mexico 68, UNLV 56
Kendall Williams scored 29 points, Cameron Bairstow tossed in 18 and New Mexico controlled the game the entire way in a 68-56 victory against UNLV tonight at the Thomas & Mack Center.
UNLV shot 31.7 percent from the field for the game, hitting only 3-of-21 3-point attempts. The Rebels also hit below 60 percent on free-throw attempts.
Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith each had double-doubles for UNLV. Birch had 11 points and 12 rebounds while Roscoe Smith finished with 10 apiece. Bryce Dejean-Jones also scored 10.
The Rebels' defense wasn't even close to good enough the entire night. They didn't play the pick-and-rolls well, and that's the majority of what the Lobos ran with Williams and Bairstow. New Mexico also took advantage of Roscoe Smith's distinct disadvantage by giving the ball to whomever he was guarding.
The loss drops the Rebels to 8-5 in Mountain West play, eliminating any chance they had at competing for the league title. New Mexico now will host San Diego State on Saturday in a battle for first place.
Check lasvegassun.com later tonight for a full report from the Rebels' loss.
Other opponents sprout up time to time for highly anticipated Mountain West matchups and UNR is UNLV’s in-state rival, but the two games on the home schedule that have consistently carried the most weight in recent years are San Diego State and New Mexico. The latter comes to the Thomas & Mack Center tonight for a pivotal game that will affect the conference title race one way or the other.
A New Mexico win would keep the Lobos (19-5, 10-2) one game back of the Aztecs with a home game against SDSU on deck Saturday. A UNLV win would put the Rebels (17-8, 8-4) one game back of second place with the tiebreaker over New Mexico and two games behind SDSU.
The Rebels have won six out of their last seven in a variety of ways. Late-game execution (Fresno State), will to survive (Wyoming) and domination (Utah State) have each played a role. The best single half UNLV has played over this stretch was probably the second half at Utah State, when the Rebels came out and ran over the overmatched Aggies.
UNLV isn’t as athletically superior to the Lobos as it was the Aggies, but the transition game is still an advantage if used properly. The Rebels started controlling Saturday’s game when they, surprise, took the ball inside. For as much as Dave Rice and company talk about wanting to play inside-out and getting the ball in the paint, I find it absurd that the Rebels so often need to be reminded of this at halftime after chucking for the first 20 minutes.
Of course, that’s hardly the only confounding component of this year’s Rebels. They are consistently inconsistent, and a strong second half on Saturday does nothing to guarantee a solid start to tonight’s game.
While SDSU has taken most of the headlines, New Mexico has been going about its business with a really solid conference performance. In league games, the Lobos have the most efficient offense — 1.16 points per possession, according to kenpom.com — and the fewest turnovers. They also have the best two-point percentage defense, which means the Rebels will likely struggle to effectively get the ball inside out of half-court sets.
Bern’s prediction: Unlike the last meeting, which I felt strongly UNLV would play closely if not win outright, I don’t have a good read on tonight’s game. The Rebels have won their last three home games by a combined seven points and New Mexico is plenty capable of coming in and winning. I suppose I’ll side with the home team but I don’t feel confident about it, and considering the way UNLV has played lately how could anyone? I just hope the game lives up to expectations, no matter who wins. UNLV 68, New Mexico 66
Season: ATS 16-9, O/U 17-6-2