San Diego St.-UNLV Preview

San Diego State posted its sixth consecutive win over UNLV in

thrilling fashion when the teams met last month.

While the Aztecs have controlled this series of late, they know

they’ll get all they can handle from a Runnin’ Rebels team eagerly

awaiting their arrival.

Seeking a fourth straight win at the Thomas & Mack Center,

No. 13 San Diego State looks to hand 14th-ranked UNLV its first

home loss when the teams meet Saturday with first place in the

Mountain West Conference on the line.

The Aztecs (20-3, 6-1) continued their recent domination of the

Runnin’ Rebels (21-4, 5-2) with a conference-opening 69-67 win Jan.

14. Leading scorer Jamaal Franklin played the role of hero, making

the game-winning layup with three-tenths of a second remaining.

Tightly-contested games between these teams are nothing new,

with the last four matchups decided by a combined 16 points.

“We’ve played Vegas close game after close game after close

game,” San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. “Every game, home

or away, has been very aggressive by both teams … Obviously, the

magnitude of this game right now for both teams is big. It’s high

level.”

San Diego State is first in the conference, one game ahead of

both UNLV and New Mexico. While the Aztecs currently control their

own destiny, they know facing both to kick off the second half of

league play could quickly change things. San Diego State hosts the

Lobos on Wednesday.

“Second half begins (Saturday) and we know the challenges that

we face. Everybody asked before we started, `What’s it going to be

like playing Vegas and New Mexico right out of the gate?’ And

that’s what we have this time,” Fisher said.

“It’s a big game, a big game for both teams. I know we’ll be

ready and I’m sure that they’ll be ready also … This is what

everybody wants to play in though, these kinds of games and this

kind of environment. This is what we’re going to have on Saturday.

We look forward to it and we are ready to go.”

While the Thomas & Mack Center hasn’t generally proven kind

to visiting teams, the Aztecs have surprisingly thrived there –

going 5-1 over their last six visits. Another victory, however,

could be hard to come by given the Runnin’ Rebels’ recent efforts

at home.

UNLV has gone 13-0 on its own court while outscoring opponents

by an average of 23.4 points. The Runnin’ Rebels, who rank ninth in

the country with 80.0 points per game, are averaging an even more

impressive 86.8 on 51.6 percent shooting at home.

UNLV doesn’t carry much momentum into this weekend’s showdown

after its five-game winning streak came to an end with last

Saturday’s 68-66 loss at Wyoming. The Runnin’ Rebels had a couple

of chances to tie the game in the waning seconds but couldn’t come

though.

“We’re right in the middle of a conference race. We let one get

away (last Saturday), but again, we’re still one game out of first

place,” coach Dave Rice told the team’s official site. “We’ve got

the first place team coming to the Thomas & Mack Center on

(Saturday), so great opportunity for us ahead.”

The Aztecs are coming off an 83-73 win over TCU last Saturday

and, like UNLV, figure to be well rested.

“I think it’s good for us,” Fisher said of having the week off.

“I think we need to take a deep breath … With the stretch we had,

and what we’ve been doing, the travel and everything, it affected

us physically a little bit. … It’s nice to have a slight lead

going into the second lap. We know it will be hard.”

Franklin, averaging 16.0 points, scored 24 to go along with a

career best-tying 11 rebounds versus the Horned Frogs.