Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Feb. 18, 2011 | 2:15 a.m.
UNLV vs. Colorado State
UNLV Rebels (19-7, 7-5) vs. Colorado State Rams (18-7, 8-3)
Where: Moby Arena
When: 4 p.m.
Coaches: Lon Kruger is 156-69 in his seven seasons at UNLV and 474-302 in 25 overall seasons; Tim Miles is 50-70 in his four seasons at CSU and 262-202 in 16 overall seasons.
Series: UNLV leads, 31-9
Last time: CSU won, 78-63, on Jan. 19 in Las Vegas
TV/Radio:The Mtn./ESPN Radio 1100 AM/98.9 FM
G Oscar Bellfield (6-2, 185, Jr.) 10.7 ppg, 3.7 apg, 2.3 rpg.
G Anthony Marshall (6-3, 200, So.) 9.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.8 apg.
G Tre'Von Willis (6-4, 195, Sr.) 12.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.2 apg.
F Chace Stanback (6-8, 210, Jr.) 12.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg.
F Quintrell Thomas (6-8, 245, So.) 5.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg.
Bench:G Derrick Jasper (6-6, 215, Sr.) 6.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.0 apg; F Brice Massamba (6-10, 240, Jr.) 4.0 ppg, 2.2 rpg; G Justin Hawkins (6-3, 190, So.) 5.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg; F Carlos Lopez (6-11, 215, Fr.) 5.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg; G-F Karam Mashour (6-6, 200, Fr.) 2.4 ppg.
What to watch: UNLV was without Tre'Von Willis in the first meeting, but Willis has struggled to be as productive as he was last season before a balky right knee required surgery in the summer. However, now as close to full strength as he's been in quite some time. How much of a difference will that make compared to the first time around, when the Rebels lacked a guy who was willing to take charge while trailing the Rams the entire second half.
G Dorian Green (6-2, 170, So.) 7.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.9 apg.
G Adam Nigon (6-3, 175, Sr.) 6.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg.
F Greg Smith (6-6, 200, So.) 6.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg.
F Travis Franklin (6-7, 215, Sr.) 14.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg.
F Andy Ogide (6-9, 245, Sr.) 16.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg.
Bench: G Wes Eikmeier (6-3, 175, So.) 9.3 ppg, 2.2 apg; G Jesse Carr (6-2, 180, So.) 4.4 ppg, 1.8 rpg; F Pierce Hornung (6-5, 200, So.) 4.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg; F Andre McFarland (6-6, 225, Sr.) 3.2 ppg; F Will Bell (6-6, 230, Jr.) 2.7 ppg.
What to watch: He doesn't average big numbers, but senior guard Adam Nigon has a history of having his biggest offensive efforts against the league's top programs. His specialty is the outside shot. The former walk-on leads the Rams this season in 3-point percentage at 44.7.
Las Vegas Sun reporters Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer analyze the UNLV basketball team's Saturday game at Colorado State. The Rebels are in fourth place in the Mountain West Conference, needing a victory against third-place Colorado State to enhance its chances for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. That makes Saturday's game a must-win if the Rebels want to continue playing in March.
Oscar Bellfield donned some black and orange trunks with a faded logo from a tournament he played in somewhere along the way and a nondescript white tank top.
Kendall Wallace came from the locker room down the Thomas & Mack Center tunnel to do some rehab on his knee wearing a pair of UNLV team-issued practice shorts, but was sent back up by a member of the coaching staff to change.
Everyone was stripped of their normal practice gear — a couple of coaches included — in order to try and send a message with the season's biggest game on the horizon this Saturday at Colorado State.
"We took a day to kind of remind us that we've got to play better, represent better," coach Lon Kruger said. "Guys want to, and we think we can."
Added Willis: "It stirs things up a little bit, gives us a different look. From a player's perspective, we're going to have a new look as well. We're going to go out there and just play our game. We're going to look to run a little bit, attack and play the same way, intensity-wise, on the defensive end."
The timing for a bit of a mental reset couldn't possibly be better, and whether it directly correlated or not is unclear, but Thursday's practice was a bit more intense and raw than normal.
The Rebels (19-7 overall, 7-5 Mountain West) last Saturday suffered an emotionally deflating home loss to No. 6 San Diego State, 63-57, then had the look of a team that had just lost following a 49-42 victory over Air Force at the Mack on Wednesday night.
"It was a win, but it wasn't a win you could be proud of," sophomore forward Quintrell Thomas said. "We didn't do a good job of forcing them to do what we wanted to do. We definitely learned a little something that game."
Defensive prowess has hardly been the issue of late. It's the offensive production and execution that hit rock bottom against the Falcons. The Rebels had only 14 field goals and were sweating out a game they should have won easily into the final minutes.
In its last two games, the team is just 3-of-29 from 3-point range, and on the season is firing away at a 30.5 percent clip from deep. That percentage ranks 272nd in the nation.
"We can't keep going through these games not fighting to get what we want on the offensive end," Willis said. "We're letting defenses dictate too much and we're reacting instead of attacking and us making them react to what we're doing."
Still nursing a sore right knee at the time, Willis didn't play in the Rebels' shocking 78-63 home loss to the Rams on Jan. 19.
Afterward, several UNLV players bemoaned their lack of focus and thorough effort against the Mountain West upstart.
It was CSU's biggest road win under fourth-year coach Tim Miles, who right now is arguably the most deserving candidate for MWC Coach of the Year honors.
Miles took over a program that was at the depths of the league ranks and has it in the hunt for a possible NCAA tournament bid.
The Rams have gotten to this point by playing the most consistent ball of any team in the conference. They're beating everyone they're supposed to beat and hanging with the big boys, as well. Last weekend, they notched a key 68-62 home victory over New Mexico and have also pushed BYU and SDSU into the final minutes in close losses.
This game is huge for both sides, though, in not only the race for third in the league but for the MWC's third potential NCAA invite.
The Rebels have the easier schedule after Saturday, with their remaining regular season games coming against New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah. The Rams still have road games at BYU and SDSU. If UNLV wins, it inches to within a game of CSU in the loss column, while the Rams can give themselves some more wiggle room against the Cougars and Aztecs by maintaining the two-game cushion.
UNLV in the last couple of seasons has struggled at Moby Arena, losing there two years ago and escaping with a narrow 80-72 victory last season. Now, on top of the host being a bit tougher, the crowds in the unique gym are bigger, too.
"We've just got to have energy," Thomas said. "We are here playing college basketball. There's no reason not to have energy. There's a lot of people who want to be in the position we're in. We have to pick up the energy and look like we want to play out there."
If UNLV doesn't bring the aforementioned energy to the table, Saturday's game could get really ugly, really quick. With a loss, the Rebels would be left with a load of work still to be done to improve the tourney résumé and an 0-6 record in the regular season against the MWC's top three teams.
With effort reminiscent of Thursday's, UNLV has a shot to earn a potential season-saving win.
So, does the point get across?
"I think that's the feel and the message that coach Kruger was trying to send — we've got to look at this and just be ourselves," Willis said. "Go out there, be hungry and just want it. We're responding to each other, and we're ready to win some ball games."
Massamba likely to play after missing Friday's practice
Junior big man Brice Massamba, following a shot to the head during Thursday's practice, was a bit woozy. He then sat out from Friday morning's sessions while suffering from some concussion-like symptoms.
However, Massamba made the trip with the team to Fort Collins on Friday afternoon, and according to Lon Kruger is likely to play on Saturday barring any more symptoms creeping up.