Stevens: Roll Out The Ball For Lobos & Rebs And Get Out Of The Way

Feb. 17, 2012

New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball - In The Pit

Saturday: 11 a.m. (MT), UNLV (22-5, 6-3) vs. New Mexico (21-4, 7-2)
On The Air: CBS-TV; 770-AM KKOB - Lobo Radio Network LoboTV, Game Recap, Full Stats, Quotes, GameTracker

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

It's another one of those Pit games that requires no hype, no grasping for flowery adjectives, nothing more than a simple statement:

The Lobos will play Rebels Saturday in The Pit.

You roll out the ball for this one and you get out of the way. You have arguably the best team in the Mountain West (Lobos) playing arguably the most talented team in the Mountain West (UNLV) and Saturday's tilt should settle a few arguments.

For now.

If the Lobos back up their win at San Diego State with a slap down of Rebels, then the Rebels need to salute the Lobos and hope for payback during the Mountain West Tournament to be played on Vegas soil at the Thomas & Mack.

If the Rebels can beat the Lobos in their Pit, well, tip your hat that way.

For sure, the Rebels should be ignoring their 17-point beat down of Lobos in Vegas on Jan. 21. This is a different Lobo team. Steve Alford's pack is playing at a high level on both ends of the court and their sights are set on a regular-season MW title.

UNM goes into the contest with a one-game lead over UNLV and San Diego State and, of course, this game is monumental, pivotal, gigantic.

If the Lobos win, they have a chance to control their own destiny and win-out to claim the 2012 MW title. For sure, a win would push the Lobos into the Top 25.

If the Rebs win, they have beaten the Lobos twice and hold a sweet tie-breaker should it come down to that for MW tournament seeding. The seeding for that Vegas event is huge. If you are the No. 1 seed, that means No. 2 and No. 3 are on the other side of the bracket. Can you imagine having to play any of these teams back-to-back in Vegas?

The Rebs also have something else to prove. They are recognized coast-to-coast for their outstanding array of talent, but they also have been called "road weak" coast-to-coast.

The so-called experts of college hoops question Vegas' toughness away from the Thomas & Mack. Vegas has lost at San Diego State, lost at Wyoming and was embarrassed at TCU blowing an 18-point lead and falling in overtime.

The Rebs have a great opportunity to erase that road-weak label by beating a red hot Lobo team on their home ground.

The motivation for both teams is sky high, intense and made-for-TV. This clash has that, too. The CBS cameras will be in The Pit Saturday morning.

This isn't CBS Light or ESPN 12. This is CBS like in David Letterman and Two And A Half Men. The eyes of a nation will be tuning in on two of the nation's top teams. ESPN radio will be there. The game has been sold out for almost a week.

It's unlikely the Rebs will be intimidated by Lobos or vice versa. UNLV has won three straight over the Lobos, including back-to-back wins in The Pit. The Rebs rolled the Lobos by 17 points less than a month ago.

But things change and so have the Lobos. This February version of Lobos is playing March tough. The Lobos that lost in The Pit by five to SDSU just won by 10 in San Diego.

The Lobos are more than good enough to throw a reversal on the Rebs. The Rebs are more than good enough to make it a regular-season sweep over the Lobos.

So, who is going to shoot well? Which team will rule the boards? Which team will be clutch down the clutch run - if it comes to that? Which team will make good decision, take care of the ball and hit their shots?

The Lobos really haven't had to be clutch over the past six games. They have hammered on teams. The Lobos' closest game over the past six games was 10 points, and one of those was that 10-point win at SDSU. That has to get your attention.

The Rebels are much like the Aztecs when it comes to athleticism, but UNLV might match up better inside against UNM's Drew Gordon. The Lobo senior had 17 points and 17 boards at SDSU. He was a monster in the paint. He was pretty good in the loss at Vegas with 14 points and 12 turnovers.

But Vegas has 6-11 Carlos Lopez and 6-10 Brice Massamba to throw at the 6-9 Gordon. The Rebs also have 6-8 Chace Stanback and 6-8 Mike Moser.

Moser has to go down as a strong candidate for MW Player of The Year. He is averaging 15.0 points and 11.3 rebounds, had 51 steals and 24 blocked shots. He can be a beast in the paint.

The Rebs are tall and they are fast. They forced the Lobos into 21 turnovers in Vegas and the official stats had UNLV down for 26 fast-break points to none for UNM. The Rebs had 11 steals.

Vegas also isn't bad off the bench. The UNLV bench outscored the UNM bench 26-9 in the Thomas & Mack with Lopez scoring 14 and 6-3 Justin Hawkins scoring 10.

The Lobos are a lot like the Rebs with not quite as much size. UNM has an inside-outside touch. UNM has points off the bench. What the Lobos have right now is a whole lot of chemistry and focus on both ends of the court. The Lobos are defending well. The Lobos are finding good shots and making them.

Vegas has to find a way to disrupt UNM's offense. They held UNM to 39 percent shooting in Vegas and the Rebs shot 51 percent - off way too many fast-break opportunities. The Lobos have to disrupt Vegas' transition game. It will be a war at every position for every minute.

Maybe the only thing bad about this game is that it's not a doubleheader.