LARAMIE, Wy. — With back-to-back hard-fought wins over ranked San Diego State and Colorado State teams, it appears the UNLV Rebels may have turned the corner during what at times has been a disappointing 2012-13 campaign.
Today the Runnin’ Rebels (20-7, 7-5 Mountain West) face perhaps their toughest nemesis … the road.
UNLV, which won its first three road games at Portland, Cal and UTEP, has gone just 1-6 since, including the last four in a row. Three of those were to lower echelon Mountain West teams Boise State, Fresno State and Air Force.
Now comes Wyoming (18-8, 4-8), which handed UNLV a 68-66 loss a year ago at Arena-Auditorium. That loss began a 1-9 run in Mountain West road games for Dave Rice’s Rebels.
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Laramie is usually the most difficult road trip in terms of travel for UNLV. Normally the Rebels fly to Denver, then bus another 2 ½ hours to Laramie which makes for a long day of travel. Add the 7,200-foot altitude – something players are well aware of when they see a sign reminding them of that fact on the way out of the locker room – and its understandable why teams struggle here.
But UNLV chartered into Laramie after practice on Friday afternoon which should make the team a lot of fresher for today’s 4:30 p.m. contest (Time Warner Cable).
Toss in the fact the Cowboys are not close to 100 percent physically and this would seem to be the ideal time for the Rebels to pick up their first road win since a 82-75 win at San Diego State on Jan. 16.
Wyoming, which already lost star guard Luke Martinez for his alleged role in a bar altercation, limps in off a 79-51 loss at San Diego State on Tuesday, a game the Cowboys trailed 37-13 at halftime. But starting forward Leonard Washington, the team’s leading scorer (13.8) and rebounder (9.1), sat that one out with a sprained ankle and emerging star forward Larry Nance Jr., who is averaging 10 points and seven rebounds, was battling a virus that caused him to be hospitalized on Wednesday following a reaction to antibiotics. Another front line player, Derek Cooke Jr., left the game after suffering a bone bruise to his back after a nasty fall. And point guard Derrious Gilmore (12.6 ppg) has also been battling the flu.
The Rebels prepared for the Cowboys as though Washington, Nance, Cooke and Gilmore will all play (see Rice video above). Still, the Cowboys, who lost 62-50 in the first meeting at the Thomas & Mack, will be far from 100 percent from this one.
“We’re just looking to break it,” sophomore guard Bryce Dejean-Jones said (see video above) when asked if the players have talked about why things have gone sour on the road lately. “We know we haven’t played as well as we should have on the road and we’re looking to change that.”