With Mike Moser finally back in the lineup, the UNLV Runnin' Rebels are now set to clash with the 15th-ranked San Diego State Aztecs in Mountain West Conference action at Viejas Arena on Wednesday night.
Moser, one of the top performers in the MWC last season, has missed several games due to a myriad of reasons, but he was back in the starting lineup over the weekend as the Runnin' Rebels captured a 76-71 overtime victory against Air Force. The win was the third in the last four games for the previously- ranked program as it enters play on Wednesday with a mark of 1-1 in league action.
As for the Aztecs, they are one of five teams in the MWC with a record of 13-3 or better at the moment, tied with New Mexico for the top spot in the standings overall thanks to two conference wins in as many opportunities. Like the Runnin' Rebels, SDSU was also involved in an overtime game at home last Saturday, eventually posting a 79-72 victory over visiting Colorado State. The win was the third in a row for a team that has just two defeats on the season to a pair of top-10 teams in Syracuse and Arizona.
The Rebels lead the all-time series by a 33-21 margin, after the teams split the two battles last season, each winning by a mere two points on their own floor. Thanks to their 65-63 triumph at the Thomas & Mack Center in February of last season, the Rebels snapped a six-game slide versus SDSU.
Moser returned to form for the Rebels against Air Force as he generated a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds, but he took a back seat to Anthony Bennett who has become the focal point of the program during his absence. Bennett erupted for a double-double of his own consisting of 22 points and a game-high 16 boards as the Rebels pounded the Academy on the glass, 49-32. Bryce DeJean-Jones, a starter while Moser battled injury, came off the bench to deliver 18 points in just 22 minutes, while Anthony Marshall went without a single point in 43 minutes of playing time, but made up for it with 12 assists. A starter in all 17 games this season, Bennett has become a one-man wrecking machine for UNLV, from his 19.6 ppg, to 9.3 rpg and 23 blocked shots, while shooting 41.2 percent behind the 3-point line when he decided to stretch defenses. Just getting back into the swing of things, it might take Moser some time to return to form as he currently averages 9.6 ppg and 7.2 rpg.
Other than losing their concentration, there's no reason why the Aztecs ended up going to overtime against Colorado State, seeing as how SDSU connected on 10 3-pointers in the first half and owning a 41-23 lead at intermission. The Aztecs shot almost exclusively from long distance in the first half, finishing the game 13-of-29 out on the perimeter thanks to Jamaal Franklin who knocked down a career-best five triples as he finished with a game-high 23 points to go along with seven rebounds. Chase Tapley dropped in another 19 points and Xavier Thames 14, while JJ O'Brien responded with 10 points and nine boards as the Aztecs were beaten on the glass by a 54-38 margin. Despite his career effort on the outside, Franklin is still hitting on a mere 27.8 percent of his 3-point tries this season, yet he leads the squad in scoring (17.8 ppg) and rebounding (10.3 rpg) which would suggest that he remain in the paint where he can do the most damage. Tapley (15.1 ppg) and Thames (10.5 ppg) are both connecting on better than 43.0 percent from beyond the arc, so it might be smart for Franklin to leave that aspect of the game to them from now on.