A pair of top-25 teams finally get down to ranked San Diego State Aztecs and 12th-ranked UNLV Runnin' Rebels square off in the Mountain West Conference opener for both teams at Viejas Arena this afternoon.
Steve Fisher's Aztecs come into this contest at 14-2 with a pair of losses to nationally-ranked opponents in Baylor (77-67) and Creighton (85-83) as the only blemishes on their record thus far. Since the loss to the Bluejays, SDSU has strung together seven straight wins, including a 73-65 victory over Chicago State this week. The Aztecs have won 21 straight games against current members of the Mountain West and have won 19 straight against league competition at home.
Dave Rice's Runnin' Rebels certainly possess the talent to end San Diego State's reign atop the MWC. UNLV is sporting a 16-2 overall mark, with the two losses coming on the road in early December against Wichita State (89-70) and Wisconsin (62-51). The Rebels have also won seven straight entering this showdown, including a 98-57 rout of CS-Bakersfield in the last outing, nine days ago.
UNLV holds a 32-20 advantage in the all-time series with San Diego State, but the Aztecs have won five straight over the Rebels.
The Rebels used the Bakersfield game as a tuneup for this showdown and were never really tested in the game. UNLV shot a solid .485 from the floor and that was despite converting just 9-of-32 from behind the arc. Mike Moser and Justin Hawkins led the way with 17 points apiece. Moser completed a double- double with a game-high 11 rebounds. Oscar Bellfield and Anthony Marshall provided adequate perimeter balance with 13 and 12 points, respectively. UNLV is at its best when it can get into an offensive rhythm early on. The team comes into this contest averaging a sturdy 81.3 ppg, getting it done on an impressive 48.1 percent shooting. Scoring depth is apparent with three players averaging double figures and two more on the verge of joining the group. Chase Stanback leads the charge with 14.8 ppg. Moser is a close second (14.2 ppg) and has been a monster on the boards all season long at 11.1 rpg. Marshall is next in line in the scoring column (10.6 ppg), followed by Hawkins (9.8 ppg) and Bellfield (9.6 ppg).
The Aztecs looked as if they would run Chicago State out of the building early on, but the Cougars hung around and made a game of it this week. Still, SDSU prevailed behind strong performances by guards Chase Tapley and Jamaal Franklin. Tapley was 10-of-17 from the floor and led all scorers with 24 points. Franklin recorded his second double-double of the season with 16 points and a career-high 10 rebounds. San Diego State gets the job done with balanced play at both ends of the floor. The Aztecs certainly have the personnel to win high-scoring affairs, averaging 75.2 ppg on .471 shooting. The defense has been just as important to the team's overall success, limiting foes to just 61.9 ppg and under 40 percent shooting accuracy (.392). The team has a potent one-two punch in Tapley and Franklin. Tapley leads the way with 17.3 ppg on the strength of an impressive 50-percent from three-point range (43-of-86). Franklin isn't far behind in the scoring column at 15.1 ppg. Scoring depth continues from the backcourt in the form of Xavier Thames (11.4 ppg) and James Rahon (10.1 ppg).