Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Feb. 15, 2013 | 5:40 p.m.
Following an embarrassing road loss, its fourth in a row, Las Vegas Sun reporters Ray Brewer and Taylor Bern discuss the state of the Rebels as they prepare to host rival San Diego State on Saturday.
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Saturday’s game is an important one for both UNLV and San Diego State, just not for the reasons either team or their rival fan bases were hoping for when Mountain West play started last month.
These are the league’s two preseason favorites, the teams oozing with talent and potential that had fans clearing their schedules for multiple March weekends. At 6 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack Center, the Rebels and Aztecs will battle not for a league title but for league relevance. They will play on NBC Sports Network to try to avoid a double-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“It speaks to the strength of the league and it also speaks to how poorly we have performed our last several times on the road,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said.
The Aztecs (18-6, 6-4) have junior Xavier Thames back at point guard but that wasn’t enough for them to pull off an upset at Colorado State, where they lost 66-60. The Rebels (18-7, 5-5) are coming off a 15-point loss at Air Force that erased any momentum they had created with last Saturday’s victory against first-place New Mexico.
Sitting at two (SDSU) and three (UNLV) games back in the conference standings, this isn’t even the most relevant Saturday matchup in the league race. That would be at Air Force, where the 6-4 Falcons will try to ride the momentum of their victory against UNLV to take down 7-2 Colorado State.
This UNLV-SDSU game could have been for third place had the Rebels not dropped their fourth straight road game and fifth of the last six. The loss itself isn’t that bad because Air Force is good, but trailing by 24 and lacking the requisite energy and effort brought out a lot of anger from UNLV fans.
“I get it. They have every right to be frustrated with our performance on Wednesday," said Rice, adding he feels the same way.
The good news is that despite the standings fans are going to fill the Mack to the brim. As of Friday afternoon there were fewer than 100 tickets remaining, so a sell-out is all but guaranteed. And those fans are likely going to see a really good game.
In 34 meetings as members of the Mountain West, the teams are both 17-17, including several memorable battles. Three of the last four games were decided by two points each and UNLV’s seven-point victory at Viejas Arena earlier this season was closer than the score suggests.
Thames played in that game but he clearly wasn’t healthy, struggling through an 0-for-5 shooting night with no assists. If his back allows him to play closer to full strength the Aztecs will present an even greater challenge than their last meeting.
“He adds another important dimension to their team in that he’s their best ball handler,” Rice said.
UNLV has recent experience bouncing back from a loss, having done it just last week after losing by nine at Fresno State. It’s going to take the same type of effort the Rebels played with against the Lobos to pull it off once again.
This game may not be as big as people expected it to be but there’s still a lot on the line.
Mock committee gives Rebels a 10 seed
Several media members went to Indianapolis over the past two days to take part in a mock selection process that gives them an idea of what the actual NCAA Tournament selection committee will do to come up with its field of 68.
At the end of the process, the mock committee came out with four Mountain West teams in the field, including putting 10-seed UNLV against 7-seed Cincinnati in Salt Lake City.
The others include 4-seed New Mexico against 13-seed Ohio in Salt Lake City, 7-seed Colorado State vs. 10-seed Temple in Auburn Hills, Mich., and 11-seed San Diego State against 6-seed Oklahoma in Kansas City.
Obviously these seeds and matchups don’t mean much more than an average mock bracket, but it still gives you an idea of about where the Mountain West teams rank right now.