San Diego St.-UNLV Preview

San Diego State beat UNLV on its home floor to win last season’s

Mountain West Conference tournament championship game. This year,

the Rebels stand in the way of the Aztecs getting back to the

finals for a third straight season.

The second-seeded and seventh-ranked Aztecs expect to be in for

a challenge as they face the surging Rebels in Friday night’s

semifinal at the Thomas & Mack Center.

With three titles apiece, San Diego State and UNLV are the

winningest programs in the history of the MWC tournament. After

losing to Utah in the 2009 final, San Diego State beat the Rebels

55-45 to win last year’s championship.

UNLV (24-7) has reached the finals three of the last four years

– winning consecutive titles in 2007-2008 – since the event

returned to the Thomas & Mack in 2007.

With the crowd on their side, the Rebels always present a

challenge on their home floor. However, the Aztecs (30-2) have won

two in a row and four of five on the road against the Rebels,

including a 63-57 victory Feb. 12

“We know that’s going to be hard,” said San Diego State forward

and Las Vegas native Billy White. “They’re going to have a whole

bunch of people here. We just got to stay focused. We beat them

twice (this season). We can beat them again. We just got to stick

to the game plan.”

UNLV, however, has won six straight since losing to the Aztecs

in February. The third-seeded Rebels earned a spot in the

semifinals with a 69-53 win over Air Force on Thursday.

“Playing UNLV is always tough,” Aztecs forward Malcolm Thomas

said. “It’s going to be an aggressive, tough game. We’re just going

to have to be focused mentally, hopefully come out with a


UNLV’s recent success has the squad confident about this matchup

despite its past struggles versus San Diego State.

“We’ve got some unfinished business, we’ve lost four straight

times to them,” said senior Tre’Von Willis, who scored 20 points

against Air Force. “We’re going to do everything in our power to

change that.”

Kruger’s squad must improve its shooting against San Diego State

to have a chance. The Rebels have shot 36.2 percent and averaged

56.8 points while losing seven of eight to the Aztecs.

San Diego State held them to 32.7 percent in the 2010 final and

37.9 last month.

“They are very good defensively, that’s a big part of why they

are effective,” UNLV coach Lon Kruger said.

Reigning league tournament MVP Kawhi Leonard has averaged 14.2

points and 14.4 rebounds in five career games versus UNLV. He had

16 points and 21 rebounds in last season’s championship game.

Leonard and Thomas each had 13 points and combined for 22 boards

in San Diego State’s 64-50 win over Utah on Thursday. Leonard

expects to be fine for this contest after being limited in the

second half Thursday because of a sore back.

Chace Stanback went 6 of 8 from 3-point range and finished with

20 points for the Rebels on Thursday. However, the junior swingman

has averaged 9.0 points on 31.5 percent shooting in five games

versus San Diego State.