Stevens: Lobos Vs. Rebels Is Not For The Weak of Heart

Jan. 8, 2013

New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball - In The Pit

Wednesday: 8:05 p.m. (MT) - No. 25 New Mexico Lobos (13-2, 0-0 MW) vs. No. 19 UNLV Runnin' Rebels (13-2, 0-0)
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Up Next: 1 p.m., Saturday - Fresno State at New Mexico - The Pit

"This is the best team we've played," - Lobo Coach Steve Alford on the UNLV Rebels.
"It's going to be fun," said UNM's Alex Kirk.

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

It's a game that needs no hype and maybe only three words: Lobos vs. Rebels.

Really, there is no need to go deeper. That's like saying Ali vs. Frazier; Godzilla vs. King Kong. Roll a ball out onto the Bob King Floor and get out of the way.

The fabric of the New Mexico/UNLV rivalry and the promise of those battles can be constricted and reflected by the essence of these two high level programs and teams.

For Wednesday night in The Pit, that means UNM's Kendall Williams, Tony Snell, Alex Kirk and company going at Runnin' Rebs Anthony Bennett, Anthony Marshall and maybe Mike Moser.

If your Lobo roots go deeper, the mystique of this battle is magnified by its glorious past. For those lucky Lobo fans, Norm Ellenberger, Tark "The Shark" Tarkanian, Michael Cooper, Reggie Theus and the ghosts of other Lobo and Rebel greats will be stirring in the rafters.

It's a game of haunting tradition - a big game with a history of big-time athletes warring at a big-time level. It will be no different Wednesday in The Pit.

The stakes aren't huge because this is the Mountain West opener for both teams. There is plenty of time and plenty of games on the horizon. But it is still an important game and maybe more so because of the status of the Mountain West in 2013.

"This is a big-time basketball league," said UNM's Steve Alford.

Yeah, this is a scary Mountain and currently ranked the No. 2 men's basketball league in the nation. The top six teams combine for a 76-10 record and a 50-2 home mark. That's why a Pit win is important for the Lobos. There just might be a lot of road losses for all MW teams this season.

"The bottom half of our league has gotten a lot better. The top half has stayed strong," said Alford. "It will be very difficult, not just to win on the road, but I think home games will be hard."

If there is a special treat coming from the enemy on Wednesday it comes in the form of UNLV freshman sensation Anthony Bennett. He averages 19.9 points and has topped the Rebel scoring charts in 13 of 15 games. He is No. 20 in the nation in scoring the No. 1 freshman scorer. He is NBA good.

The UNM defensive goal for Bennett is simply enough: don't let him get a double-double. He has six in his last eight games and tops UNLV in rebounding with a 9.1 average.

Bennett is special.

"This is the best player we have played against all year," said Alford. "He plays at a high level. He runs the floor well. He's great on the backboard. He can post you. He can drive you. He is shooting the 3-ball.

"He has all the makings of a guard in a 6-8, 245-pound body."

Bennett is a huge reason the Rebels come into The Pit winning 11 of their past 12 games. The Rebels also have those wins and national rankings of No. 19 and No. 24 because of a stellar supporting cast.

Senior guard Anthony Marshall is one of the top playmakers and one of the top defenders in the nation. He averages 5.4 assists per game. Will the Rebels dare to put him on UNM's hard-driving Williams?

"Anthony Marshall is one of the best players in the backcourt," said Alford. "We have struggled with him in years past. Anthony is extremely talented. He can post you. He can drive you.

"He is shooting the ball much better this year and he has always been one of the best defending guards in our league. Our guys know that. Our vets know how good he is defensively."

The Rebels get 10.2 points a game from freshman Katin Reinhardt. Bryce Dejean-Jones (USC transfer) and Khem Birch are both averaging 9.2 points. The Rebs are No. 9 in the nation in assists because so many Rebels are efficient at putting the ball into the basket. The fourth best team in the Mountain West might be the UNLV bench.

"It's pretty impressive to have that depth and that skill level from each player coming off the bench," said UNM's Alex Kirk. "It will be fun to be challenged by all those guys. With the high skill of all their players, I think everybody is going to be pretty jacked up."

The Rebels also play defense. UNLV is No. 20 in the nation in 3-point defense (28.2), No. 21 in blocks and No. 24 in field-goal defense (37.6).

The Rebels lost Mike Moser to a dislocated elbow earlier in the season. He returned three games back and played 12 minutes, but did not play in UNLV's last two home games. The Associated Press honorable mention All-American is a force inside that the Lobos would prefer not to see. They probably will see him.

The tempo of this game should be nerve-wracking. The Pit will be deafening. Don't expect to sit down much. These teams will be running and gunning at an intense level.

"I don't know if you can slow them down," Alford said of the Runnin' Rebs. "They play at a high level. They play at a very quick pace.

"There is no stoppage of play. You go from offense to defense, from defense to offense, and you had better be pretty solid at both ends or you are going to get exploited at one of those ends.

"If you get exploited at one end, it affects the other end. We can't have that happen, especially playing a team like UNLV.

"This is the best team we've played."

Which, really, is how you want it when Rebels come to play Lobos.