The Runnin’ Rebels started MWC play 3-0 and found themselves alone in first place. But a midweek road trip to Colorado to take on Air Force brought UNLV back down to earth, and most likely out of first place for good.
AFA came into Wednesday’s game just 6-10 (1-3) on the year, while UNLV was riding high with their 9-6 (3-0) first place record. Somehow, this is the first 3-0 start UNLV has ever had as a member of the MWC. The three wins came at home vs CSU & WYO, and on the road at UNM. As it currently sits, those teams sit 7, 8, & 10 in conference standings and none are over .500. AFA is currently 9th and looked like they’d be an easy win for the Rebels.
From the tip you could tell it was going to be a long night. The Rebels were slow on defense, lazy on switches, and were all too willing to chuck deep 3’s instead of running offense. By the time the 1st half had ended, the Rebels found themselves in a 14 point hole.
The offense found a groove in the 2nd half, led by G Amauri Hardy and his game high 23 points. The defense never even showed up. 6’7″ Falcons “big man,” Ryan Swan was simply unstoppable vs a UNLV lineup forced to play small with the absence of C, Mbacke Diong. Swan had 22/9, with 6 of those rebounds coming on the offensive glass. G, Caleb Morris came off the bench to score 19 including 4-6 from 3.
The slow it down, run the shot clock, “Princeton” style offense that AFA likes to run has them averaging just 66 points a game. They hung 106 on the Rebels on Wednesday night. Air Force got whatever they wanted whenever they wanted it. UNLV simply didn’t have any answers. And make no mistake abut it, this isn’t a good Falcons team. While Clune Arena has always been a tough place to play, there is no excuse to go in there and give up 106 points. It’s still Air Force.
The Rebels will be at home on Saturday to play what may be the worst team in D1 basketball, San Jose St. Even a bad UNLV team should have an easy time with the Spartans. A win will move the Rebels to 4-1 with all five games coming against the bottom 5 teams in the MWC. Game six is a rematch in Vegas against the Lobos. Oddly enough, the Rebels could start conf. play 5-1 before a stretch vs all the top teams. Don’t be surprised, though, if UNLV is 5-6 by the time AFA comes to the Thomas & Mack in February.
The MWC is bad, and the Rebels are stuck right in the middle of it. It is, without question a one bid league. Despite the 3-0 start, and the potential 5-1 start, UNLV simply isn’t good enough to win 3 or 4 games in the MWC tourney and steel the bid from Reno.