With one roadblock to a potential Mountain West championship out of the way thanks to Saturday’s gritty 65-63 win over San Diego State, 11th-ranked UNLV will try to deal with another major obstacle that has been hindering its title run.
The Runnin Rebels (22-4, 6-2), who lost their last away game at Wyoming (68-66) after barely surviving back-to-back overtime wins at Mountain West bottom-feeders Boise State (77-72) and Air Force (65-63), face an improved TCU (14-10, 4-4) squad tonight at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum (4:30 p.m., The Mtn.).
It has all the makings of another nail-biter for Dave Rice’s squad.
First, UNLV is coming off the emotionally and physically draining win over San Diego State on Saturday. Toss in the fact the Rebels didn’t get into their hotel rooms until 2 a.m. this morning because of a flight problems and have a huge contest with MWC co-leader New Mexico on deck and this has all the makings of a perfect “trap” game.
“We need to be ready,” Rice said. “The relevant stat is that (TCU) is 4-0 at home (in Mountain West play). … They’re playing very well right now and they’re playing with a lot of confidence, winning a lot of close games at home.”
The Horned Frogs, led by 5-foot-9 senior guard Hank Thorns (12.9 ppg) of Valley High School, have won six straight home games, including an impressive 75-71 victory over Colorado State last Saturday.
Still, many fear that the Rebels, who have looked lethargic at times on the road, just might overlook TCU with the nationally-televised showdown at New Mexico coming up on Saturday morning. After all, UNLV blew out the Horned Frogs, 101-78, in the first meeting on Jan. 18 at the Thomas & Mack Center, jumping out to a 19-2 lead in the first four minutes.
“I don’t think there is any fear (of overlooking TCU) whatsoever,” Rice said. “I think our guys understand that we’ve put ourselves in a great position. The concern is that we are a preparation-oriented type of team and it’s a quick turnaround. But we also understand what is at stake. We have great senior leadership on our team and I know that our guys will be ready and bring a greater sense of urgency than the last time we went on the road.”
The Rebels did not practice Sunday but did watch some TCU video in an attempt to refresh after the hard-fought win over the Aztecs. Rice said he was happy with what he saw in his team’s workout Monday before departing for Texas.
“I was much more pleased with the way we competed (Monday) than I was prior to our last road game,” he said. “Not so much from a physical standpoint but from a mental preparation standpoint. … Now, that doesn’t guarantee anything other than we’re ready. Now we have to step on the court at TCU and battle from the opening tip.”
UNLV has had good success at TCU over the years, compiling a 7-1 road record against the Frogs including a 94-79 win last year. The Rebels, who have struggled with their outside shooting on the road this season, connected on 11 of 17 3-pointers (64.7 percent) at TCU a year ago and shot 61.4 percent for the game.
One Rebel who has come under scrutiny recently for his road offensive woes is senior forward Chace Stanback. But the 6-foot-8 senior has had some of his best shooting nights at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, averaging 21.5 points while connecting on 18 of 26 shots (69.2 percent), including a perfect 4-of-4 from 3-point range last year.
If UNLV can get past TCU tonight, the Rebels will move a half-game ahead of San Diego State (20-4, 6-2) and New Mexico (20-4, 6-2) at the top of the Mountain West standings. The Aztecs host the Lobos on Wednesday night at Viejas Arena.
— Steve Guiremand/Mylvsports.com