Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Feb. 3, 2012 | 6 p.m.
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LARAMIE, Wyo. — The road doesn’t get easier for No. 11 UNLV. In fact, Saturday’s 1 p.m. game at Wyoming presents the toughest conference trip of the year and snow in Denver has already altered the Rebels’ travel plans.
UNLV (21-3, 5-1) was originally going to fly through Denver, but blizzard conditions in the area canceled or delayed hundreds of flights. That forced the Rebels to fly directly from Las Vegas to Casper, Wyo., where they would then bus about 150 miles south to Laramie.
Asked Thursday if getting to Arena-Auditorium is the toughest travel itinerary in the Mountain West, UNLV coach Dave Rice was unequivocal.
“Yes, and I don’t think it’s even close,” Rice said. “It’s just a difficult place to get to, and you throw in the factors of how far the airport is from the school and the weather, which is always unpredictable.
“Having said that, it’s part of their advantage and we just need to overcome it and be ready to play.”
Assistant coach Heath Schroyer knows all about those advantages, which include the “Highest Court” in the country with an elevation of 7,220. Before joining Rice’s staff, Schroyer was the head coach at Wyoming for 3 1/2 seasons.
“It’s hard to get there, No. 1,” Schroyer said. “I think that’s a huge advantage they’ve always had there. Teams need to really utilize their depth and play a lot of people, but we play a lot of people anyway.”
Schroyer, who was also an assistant at Wyoming from 2001-02, led the Cowboys to a 49-68 overall record and drastically improved the school’s Academic Progress Rate before getting fired last February. On his first trip back to Laramie, Schroyer wanted to make sure he didn’t get too much attention.
“It’s not about me, it’s about UNLV and Wyoming,” Schroyer said. “I’m excited to see a lot of my former team; I love those guys. I wish them nothing but the best, I’m really happy for them that they’re having a great year, but we all have a job to do.”
And Schroyer’s job the past couple of days was leading the scouting report for the Cowboys (17-5, 3-3).
Wyoming is very experienced, starting with fifth-year senior point guard JayDee Luster, who’s averaging just less than four assists per game. Junior forward Leonard Washington averages 13.1 points per game while junior guard Luke Martinez is close behind at 13.
The most important statistic may be that the Cowboys average just 65.5 points per game, the second-lowest total in the Mountain West. So much like the grind-it-out battle at Air Force (62.8 points per game) last week, the Rebels may find themselves in a slugfest.
If it comes down to the end, they will certainly have the confidence that they can pull it out. But the close finishes on the road are starting to wear on the Rebels.
“The stress of these road games has been getting to me,” sophomore forward Mike Moser said. “This weekend is going to be kind of a statement for what we can do on the road.”
To make that statement, Rice said his team can’t go through scoring droughts. He has confidence that the defense will be there, but long stretches without buckets could sink UNLV.
Much like the conference-opener at San Diego State, the Rebels have an assistant with detailed information on the opponent. It didn’t work out the first time around, but you can never know too much about an opponent.
“The biggest advantage is that we understand personnel,” Rice said. “Coach Schroyer recruited a majority of the guys who will play in the game so he understands tendencies and what they do.”
UNLV won’t have to go through anything like the nearly 20-hour, multistop debacle that San Diego State endured before getting a 52-42 victory at Wyoming on Jan. 24.
Still, it’s not an easy game and it starts with just getting here.