It is hard to believe that Utah is the only team that the Rebels have not beaten in the Mountain West, but that is the case. A team with only seven conference wins, Utah seems to have the number of a team that only has seven total losses, UNLV. This should make for an interesting first round matchup.
The fans of UNLV were celebrating a win over Wyoming on Saturday only to get a punched-in-the-gut feeling upon learning that the Utes had lost to the Colorado State Rams, putting them into the six spot in the conference seedings.
The Rebel fans would have rather seen anyone in the first round other than Utah. Another lost to this sub-.500 team could put an end to UNLV's tournament hopes and surely would have a devastating effect on their seed.
This matchup leaves Coach Lon Kruger with quite a conundrum in making his lineups. He has two players, Matt Shaw and Derrick Jasper, coming off of injuries. If they were playing Colorado State, a team they handled easily at home, then he could get Shaw and Jasper some good minutes and get them ready for postseason play.
Jasper's ability to get rebounds from the 3 spot will be crucial in an NCAA tournament game, but do you risk putting a player that is not in game shape on the floor in a must-win scenario?
Hopefully, the Rebels will get a few more chances to get Shaw and Jasper into a real game but they must get past Utah first.
You would think that the Rebels would need to keep the much bigger Utah team off of the boards, but that has not been their problem. In the first matchup, the Rebels out-rebounded the Utes 34-31, and in the second game, UNLV lost the rebound battle but only by five 28-33.
While the rebounding could be better, it was not the cause of their losses.
The key to winning seems to be controlling junior guard Carlon Brown. In Vegas, Brown was only 5-for-12 but made three out of his five three-point attempts to finish the game with 16 points. In the game in Utah, he shot 8-for-12 to lead the team with 18 points.
The UNLV Rebels will be fired up for this game, but there will be some concern over whether or not this UofU team is in their head.
At least the game will be on the home court of UNLV and I believe the coaching advantage is on their side as well. All the Rebel fans can hope is that the old adage, it is hard to beat a team three times in a season, holds true.