Stevens: Lobos Face a Desperate & Talented UNLV Rebels' Team

Feb. 8, 2013

New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball -Mountain West - At UNLV

Saturday: 7 p.m (MT); No. 15/16 New Mexico (20-3, 7-1) at UNLV Rebels (17-6, 4-4) -- Thomas & Mack Center
On The Air: 770-AM KKOB/Lobo Radio Network; NBC Sports Network (Dish 159, DirectTV 220, Comcast 259)
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

So, how is the view from the top!

Actually, it's pretty nice for Steve Alford's Lobos. They are looking down at the pack, but like any king of the herd there is unrest, envy and resentment beneath them.

And here it comes from maybe the most talented team in the Mountain West race -- the UNLV Runnin' Rebels.

The Lobos clearly established in the first half of the Mountain race that they are playing this game at a higher level than the pack. That's reflected in the gaudy 7-1 mark the Lobos posted at the turn. Nobody else could match it.

But the San Diego State Aztecs showed that the Lobos do not play at a higher level for every moment and every game. The Rebels, in their Thomas & Mack, surely grasp the some hope, the same gnawing need.

There are cracks in the Lobos' armor and the UNLV Rebels are hungry to pry a few cracks apart and give themselves a ray of hope that they can catch the Lobos before this Mountain West thing ends.

The Rebels are in trouble. They sit 4-4 heading into the back stretch of the Mountain race. They lost in The Pit. Their backs are to the wall and they will come at the Lobos like a fury unchained.

The Aztecs did the same thing in San Diego. They smashed the Lobos like a fist and the Lobos responded with good effort, but not good toughness.

"We need to go in there and learn from our first experience with San Diego State," said Lobo Kendall Williams. "Both teams have a very high and intense tempo on their home court.

"We need to be the road team that we are capable of being. We need to go in there and get a big win."

In Vegas, UNM will have to have effort, toughness, poise, execution, rebounding --- well, you name it. All the fundamentals of the game should come into play in producing a winner on Saturday. One key you can't underestimate is shooting.

The Lobos haven't exactly shot the lights out this season - until recently. But those floor numbers did not come against the Rebs in Thomas & Mack.

There definitely are games labeled "Pit games." Are there Thomas & Mack games?

One thing the Lobos probably need to do is match the Rebs' intensity and their desperation. OK, the Lobos aren't desperate. The Rebs are. But there will be a fire in the Rebs' gut and UNM has to find some way to match it.

Lobo Coach Steve Alford said when you are chasing a title it also helps to eliminate teams along the way. The Rebels aren't exactly in a good spot, but a loss to the Lobos will be devastating. Think about it. A Lobo win would give UNM an 8-1 mark and UNLV would plummet to 4-5.

"It's going to be difficult at UNLV," said Alford.

That might be an understatement. We'll see. The Rebs not only are pushed up against a Mountain West cliff, but they are 13-1 at home and riding an 11-game win streak in the Mack. But the Lobos are not a team that goes on the road with buckling knees. The eight Lobo road opponents had a combined record of 61-5.

The Lobos are paced in the scoring charts by Kendall Williams at 13.6 followed by Tony Snell at11.9, Alex Kirk at 11.2, Cameron Bairstow at 8.2 and Hugh Greenwood at 8.2.

The UNLV Rebels are throwing out a solid 17-6 seasons, but they sit 4-4 in the Mountain and have lost to a few teams they simply should not have lost to. They are loaded with talent. The Rebs have lost two in a row - at Boise State and at Fresno State.

UNLV is led by freshman sensation Anthony Bennett with an 18.3 average. Anthony Marshall has an 11.0 average and Katin Reinhardt is at 9.6 and Bryce DeJean-Jones scores at a 9.2 clip. Bennett averages 8.5 boards and Marshall has 138 assists. These are two Rebs that must be targeted.

UNLV is shooting .448 from the field, including .333 from the three. It's holding opponents to .385 percent overall and .295 from long range.

The Rebs are called Runnin' because that's what they like to do and that's what they will do Saturday when UNM visits. The Lobos would like to run, but not allow UNLV the same luxury. Probably, the tempo will be hot. It's tough to slow down either of these teams.

What the Lobos need to match - maybe most - is the fire in the Rebs' belly. The Lobos need to be hot there, too.