UNLV concluded Mountain West Conference play with a tougher-than-expected 71-58 victory at San Jose State on Saturday night. Now comes the hard part.
The Runnin’ Rebels (17-14, 8-10), who earned the No. 7 seed in the Mountain West Tournament, now must win four games in four days to earn an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
First up will be No. 10 seed Nevada (9-21, 5-13) on Wednesday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in one of two first round play-in games with the winner to face No. 2 seed San Diego State on Thursday night at 6 p.m. in the quarterfinals. The in-state rivals split the regular season series with the Wolf Pack winning 64-62 at the Thomas & Mack Center on Jan. 7 and the Rebels scoring a 67-62 victory three weeks later in Reno.
UNLV coach Dave Rice said after Saturday night’s victory that he was “cautiously optimistic” that freshman guard Patrick McCaw, the team’s third leading scorer (10.0) and arguably it’s best all-around player the past month, could return to practice on Tuesday after being sidelined with a concussion suffered in Wednesday night’s 60-58 loss to San Diego State.
If Saturday night’s win at San Jose State is any indication, the Rebels need him desperately.
San Jose State, which finished a pitiful 2-28 and 0-18 in Mountain West play, gave UNLV all it could handle, trailing just 48-46 with 11 minutes to go after a layup by former Durango High star Darryl Gaynor II.
The Rebels then went on a 10-0 run over the next four minutes bookended by a pair of layups by Jelan Kendrick, who finished with a career-high 21 points to go along with seven rebounds and six assists.
Still, the Spartans, who didn’t defeat a Division I opponent this season, made it interesting when Isaac Thornton sank a 3-pointer with 4:39 left to cut UNLV’s lead to five, 59-54.
The Rebels finally put the game away with a 8-2 run highlighted by a dunk by forward Christian Wood, who garnered his 18th double-double of the season with 19 points and 12 rebounds.
Dwayne Morgan (11) and Jordan Cornish (10) also scored in double figures for UNLV, which handed San Jose State its 20th straight loss. Senior forward Jaleel Williams scored 18 points to lead the Spartans while former Bishop Gorman star Rashad Muhammad chipped in with 16 points and eight rebounds and Gaynor finished with 14 points and five assists.
Below are the pairings for the 2015 Mountain West Tournament:
Noon: No. 8 New Mexico (15-15, 7-11) vs. No. 9 Air Force (13-16, 6-12)
2:30 p.m.: No. 7 UNLV (17-14, 8-10) vs. No. 10 Nevada (9-21, 5-13)
Noon: No. 1 Boise State (24-7, 14-4) vs. New Mexico-Air Force winner
2:30: No. 4 Wyoming (22-9, 11-7) vs. No. 5 Utah State (18-12, 11-7)
6 p.m.: No. 2 San Diego State (24-7, 14-4) vs. UNLV-Nevada winner
8:30 p.m.: No. 3 Colorado State (26-5, 13-5) vs. No. 6 Fresno State (15-16, 10-8)
6 p.m.: Boise State-New Mexico/AirForce winner vs. Wyoming-Utah State winner
8:30 p.m.: San Diego State-UNLV/Nevada winner vs. Colorado State-Fresno State winner
3 p.m.: Championship Game