Air Force-UNLV Preview
Standout freshman forward Anthony Bennett couldn't get much going and neither could his teammates as UNLV fell short in its Mountain West opener.
The Runnin' Rebels have posted 10 straight wins over Air Force, but a visit by the Falcons on Saturday night provides no guarantee they'll finish on top this time.
Bennett, the nation's leading freshman scorer with 19.4 points per game, was held to 12 in 26 foul-plagued minutes of Wednesday's 65-60 loss at No. 25 New Mexico.
"No other team has double-teamed him to the extent that this team did," coach Dave Rice said after his team's lowest-scoring game of the season. "He did a good job with it and was unselfish like he always is and kicked it out."
That didn't do much good, though, as Bennett failed to record an assist for the third time in four games and UNLV (13-3, 0-1) shot 39.0 percent. He also had just six rebounds after posting double-doubles in his previous three games.
With Wednesday's road game against No. 16 San Diego State looming, Rice wants to see more aggressiveness from his team, which shot a season-low five free throws and allowed 11 offensive rebounds, including two in the final 41.5 seconds off missed foul shots.
The Runnin' Rebels will try to get back on track at the Thomas & Mack Center, where they've gone 9-1. Each win has been by at least 12 points, and the loss came to an Oregon team which could join the next AP poll after beating No. 4 Arizona.
UNLV, 7-0 at home in conference play last season, ran Air Force's road losing streak in this series to seven with a 68-58 victory Feb. 25.
The Falcons' only victory in 19 games at UNLV came Jan. 25, 2006, and they're 2-77 all-time against Top 25 teams, but they were competitive in two such matchups this season. They were down two at halftime and within single digits deep into the second half against both Colorado and Florida.
Plus, they arrive in Las Vegas coming off a 78-65 victory over Nevada on Wednesday. Air Force (9-4, 1-0), picked in the preseason to finish in the MWC basement after sharing last place last season, hasn't opened league play with two victories since starting 4-0 in 2006-07.
"We're not supposed to win any games (in conference) ... so we're plus-one right now," coach Dave Pilipovich said. "So now we got some confidence, let's go to Las Vegas... let's go see what we can do."
The Runnin' Rebels know what senior guard Michael Lyons can do after he averaged 21.5 points in two games against them last season. Lyons is scoring 18.3 per game to rank second in the conference behind Bennett.
UNLV also should be wary of Mike Fitzgerald. The senior forward helped Air Force overcome Lyons' season-low three points Wednesday with a career-high 30, including four of the team's 10 3-pointers.
Air Force ranks second in the MWC with 8.8 3s per game.
"I hope this carries over... we need Mike to score," Pilipovich said of Fitzgerald, who shot a combined 4 of 15 with 11 total points in the previous three games.
UNLV could use more production from Mike Moser, the team leader against Air Force last season with averages of 17.0 points and 11.5 rebounds, but he'll likely only play limited minutes off the bench after suffering a dislocated left elbow last month.
Anthony Marshall, the only other returning starter from last season, leads the MWC in assists with 5.6 per game after matching a season high with nine Wednesday.
He'll likely be matched up with fellow senior point guard Todd Fletcher, who made four 3s and scored 18 points in the Falcons' last game.
UNLV has won 28 of 36 versus Air Force.