Mountain West showdown pits Aztecs against Rebels

The second half of the Mountain West ranked UNLV Runnin' Rebels play host to the 13th-ranked San Diego State Aztecs at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The Aztecs have lost just once since the end of November and because of that they are off to a 6-1 start in the MWC to pace the league. Since that lone setback to Colorado State on the road last month (77-60), SDSU has posted a pair of conference wins over the likes of Boise State and TCU in order to move to 20-3 overall. With the win over the Horned Frogs last weekend, the Aztecs secured their record-setting seventh straight season with at least 20 victories.

As for the Runnin' Rebels, they were finally knocked out of a tie for first place in the MWC with the Aztecs when Wyoming stepped up and stunned them in a 68-66 final in Laramie last weekend. The victory snapped a five-game win streak for UNLV, but a couple of those triumphs were rather shaky as the team went to overtime in back-to-back decisions against Boise State and Air Force, two of the weaker programs in the Mountain West.

With respect to the all-time series between these two schools on the hardwood, the Rebels are ahead by a 32-21 count, but in the first meeting of the season last month the Aztecs scored a thrilling 69-67 triumph in the final moments thanks to a three-pointer by Jamaal Franklin with 0.3 seconds remaining. With that victory, SDSU has not won six in a row in the series, the second-longest active streak against the Rebels behind only New Mexico which has posted nine straight wins.

The Horned Frogs gave it all they got in the meeting with San Diego State on the road at Viejas Arena last week, shooting close to 50 percent from the floor and 12-of-24 behind the three-point line, but still the Aztecs prevailed by double figures. Jamaal Franklin tallied a game-high 24 points for the hosts, adding career-high 11 rebounds, while James Rahon logged 16 points after combining for a mere 18 points in the four previous games combined. Chase Tapley added 14 points, while DeShawn Stephens chipped in with 13 points and six rebounds off the bench as the team shot just over 50 percent from the floor. Jamaal Franklin is scoring a team-best 16.0 ppg at the moment, only slightly better than Tapley who has delivered 15.9 ppg thanks to his 43.3 percent shooting behind the three-point line. Franklin is also the top rebounder for the squad with more than seven per game and with extra chances at the offensive end of the floor, it is easy to see how the team outscores the competition by more than 10 points per game.

It was bound to happen again, and it did against Wyoming on the road last weekend as the Rebels fell to another league foe, this time by two points at Arena Auditorium. UNLV had four players score in double figures, but so did the Cowboys, but in the case of the visitors they shot just 3-of-14 behind the three-point line, making just 1-of-10 in the second half of the tight contest. Quintrell Thomas came off the bench to tally 15 points, followed by Anthony Marshall and Oscar Bellfield who both posted 12 points and combined for 11 rebounds and just as many assists. Mike Moser logged another double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, but not a single board at the offensive end as he shot 4-of-12 on the day. Moser has been a tremendous addition to the UNLV roster, averaging 14.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game, both of which pace the group. MArshall is responsible for 11.8 ppg and, with his 119 assists, gas combined with Bellfield (9.8 ppg, 133 assists) to become one of the most productive passing duos in the country. In fact, as a team the Rebels are ranked third in the nation with 18.3 apg and fourth in overall assists with 458, something that was bound to happen since they began to open up the offense and run like the old days.