Rams butt heads with Runnin' Rebels in Mountain West showdown

With the hometown crowd backing them, the UNLV Runnin' Rebels hope to put up a fight on Wednesday night when they challenge 22nd-ranked Colorado State in Mountain West Conference play at the Thomas & Mack Center.

One of the teams expected to compete for the crown in the MWC again this season, the Runnin' Rebels have had some issues since league play began and are currently just 6-5 versus the rest of the conference. Granted, over the weekend UNLV managed to pull off a 72-70 win against San Diego State at home, but the Aztecs aren't the team many thought they'd be this season either. The good news for UNLV, which has won two of the last three outings overall, is that the squad is 15-1 at home this season.

As for the Rams, they are nationally ranked for the first time in several decades and are fast approaching the program record for wins in a season which is 23 set back in 1988-89. The team was taken to task over the weekend however, barely pulling out an 89-86 road win against Air Force as they allowed Michael Lyons to generate 45 points in the loss. With the victory, Colorado State is second in the MWC with a mark of 8-2, trailing only New Mexico which entered the week at 9-2.

UNLV holds a huge 33-11 advantage in the all-time series between these two programs, although the Rams are the ones who claimed victory in the first meeting of the campaign back in January by a score of 66-61 in Fort Collins.

All five starters for the Rams scored in double figures, led by Dorian Green who registered 22 points in 38 minutes of action, but still the star of the show was Lyons for Air Force as he shot 6-of-13 from 3-point range and 17- of-25 from the floor overall. Just outside of the spotlight were Wes Eikmeier (19 points), Greg Smith (16) and Colton Iverson (15), while Pierce Hornung recorded a double-double with 13 points and a game-high 16 rebounds in the close call.

Iverson (13.6 ppg, 9.6 rpg) and Hornung (9.9 ppg, 9.6 rpg) are both working hard in the paint for the Rams, so much so that the team is first in the nation in rebounding margin with a plus-13.8 rpg. Green (13.1 ppg, 103 assists) combines with Eikmeier (11.9 ppg) to account for 80 of the team's 134 three-point baskets over the course of 25 games so they are able to handle the action out on the perimeter while everyone else crashes the boards without becoming too physical.

Anthony Bennett recorded 21 points and 12 rebounds as the UNLV Runnin' Rebels held on to narrowly defeat the San Diego State Aztecs in MWC action at the Thomas & Mack Center last Saturday night. Also scoring in double figures for the Runnin' Rebels was Khem Birch with 16 points, to go along with seven rebounds and five blocked shots. Mike Moser showed some signs of life with nine points and four boards off the bench. UNLV overcame 17 turnovers by outscoring the visitors at the charity stripe, 19-8.

Clearly, this is a team that has transitioned from Moser, one of the top players in the conference last season, to Bennett who is leads the way in both scoring (18.0 ppg) and rebounding (8.7 rpg) while shooting a solid 53.9 percent from the floor at such a young age. Anthony Marshall is the only other double-digit scorer for the enigmatic Rebels, posting 10.4 ppg to go along with 156 assists.