UNLV hosts No. 23 Nevada in state rivalry

When it comes to bragging rights for the state of Nevada, there’s no love lost between UNLV in Las Vegas and Nevada in Reno, 430 miles to the north.

And in this in-state rivalry, it’s the Wolfpack that has had its way with the Rebels of late. The two rivals will go at it again when UNLV travels to Reno with a chance to knock off the top team in the Mountain West on Wednesday at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.

The Wolfpack (20-4, 9-1 Mountain West) enter the game back in The Associated Press Top 25 at No. 23. This is the third time this season Nevada has been ranked and they hope to have better success. Their record while ranked: 0-3, but all those losses are on the road.

Nevada has won nine of 10 and has won 16 straight home games. But playing UNLV usually is never easy, although last season the Wolfpack swept the Rebels 104-77 and 94-58.

You can bet UNLV (16-7, 5-5) hasn’t forgot those losses. Nevada remembers and is being cautious as they prepare.

“They’re a totally different team this year,” guard Josh Hall told the Reno Gazette Journal. “They’ll definitely remember how it went last year.”

UNLV didn’t have 7-foot-1, 250-pound Brandon McCoy or 6-foot-7, 225-pound Shakur Juiston last season. McCoy averages 18 points, 10 rebounds and just under two blocks per game.

“He gives a different look for everybody in our conference because we run into a lot of 6-8 centers. Now we’re dealing with a true 7-footer,” said Nevada coach Eric Musselman. “It does present a whole different dilemma. The good thing is I’ve coached against Shaquille O’Neal and some other pretty good players. But, he’s a really good player … a special talent.”

Last time out, the Rebels played one of their best games since they started the season 11-2. Even though they lost to a good Boise State team in overtime on the road, players felt good about their effort.

“I feel like we took a big step,” McCoy, who scored seven of his game-high 24 points in overtime, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We all played hard, and we just didn’t get the ball to bounce the right way.”

Guard Jordan Johnson, a transfer from Milwaukee, scored 23 points but missed a reverse layup in the final seconds that would have sent the game to a second overtime.

“We wanted to get him going downhill,” coach Marvin Menzies said. “We knew they probably wouldn’t want to foul in that situation. We needed two to tie — get to the basket. … It just kind of rimmed out. It’s the breaks of the road.”

Now the Rebels must regroup for another challenging road test and Menzies is certain his squad will be up to the task.

“They’ll be fine,” he said. “They’re supposed to be in pain. If they weren’t hurt, that would be the problem.”

The pressing problem for UNLV is just how well Nevada is playing. Four players, led by Caleb Martin’s 19.8 points per game, average in double figures. The Wolfpack rank No. 27, averaging 83.1 points per game.

Three players average more than five rebounds per game, led by Jordan Caroline’s 8.8 per game.

Caroline looks forward to the challenge of going up against McCoy and Juiston, the national junior college player of the year last season.

“They’re a great big tandem. They might be as good as any big tandem in the country.”

To offset UNLV’s height advantage, the Wolfpack are expected to push the pace.

“We want to get a lot of easy transition points, get their big guys tired,” Hall said. “Once you run in transition and get points, it leads to us playing good defense and everything runs smoothly for us.”