Las Vegas, NV (SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of former foes in both the Mountain West and Western Athletic Conferences get together in Sin City on Saturday night, as the 14th-ranked Utah Runnin' Utes clash with the Runnin' Rebels of UNLV as part of the MGM Grand Showcase.
The Utes, who are now members of the Pac-12 Conference, had been riding a six- game win streak following a 53-49 loss to nationally-ranked San Diego State -- another MWC program -- earlier in the campaign, but that came to an end last weekend. Pitted against a ranked opponent for the third time, Utah was turned back by 10th-ranked Kansas on the road, 63-60, at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
Meanwhile, UNLV has won three in a row since being set down by Arizona State in an ugly 77-55 decision earlier this month. The Rebels, who are playing down the road from their own Thomas & Mack Center, last took the floor against Portland on Wednesday night as they squeezed out a 75-73 overtime victory at home.
UNLV leads the all-time series by a count of 24-22, with the Rebels posting a 78-58 win over the Utes in Salt Lake City back on March 5. 2011, the final MWC home game for Utah.
The Utes dug themselves a major hole against Kansas as they shot only 34.6 percent from the field in the first half, compared to 60.0 percent for the Jayhawks, and missed all seven chances behind the 3-point line, en route to a 39-21 deficit at the break. The roles were somewhat reversed in the second half as the hosts converted just six total field goals, but the deficit was too great to overcome for Utah.
Delon Wright ended up with 23 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals, as he shot 9-of-13 from the field, but he was the only visitor in double figures. Jakob Poeltl came within two points of a double-double as he cleared a game-high 11 rebounds as the Utes came up short.
Connecting on his field goal tries at a 59.8 percent clip, Wright paces the team in scoring with 16.2 ppg. But more than just a scoring threat, he is also responsible for 5.4 rpg, a team-best 43 assists and 18 steals. Sadly, the squad is now going to miss a huge contributor in Jordan Loveridge (11.5 ppg) who is out following knee surgery, which leaves only Poeltl (10.9 ppg, 9.4 rpg) and Brandon Taylor (10.1 ppg) as the only other active, double-digit scorers for the program.
Cody Doolin played the hero for UNLV earlier this week when his driving layup with only 0.4 seconds remaining on the clock gave the team the win in overtime versus visiting Portland. In a game that featured 10 ties and nine lead changes, Doolin finished with 15 points, trailing only Rashad Vaughn and Christian Wood who tallied 25 and 17 points, respectively, for a team that got away with shooting just 4-of-18 behind the 3-point line.
Vaughn has struggled out on the perimeter in the early going, connecting on just 29.5 percent of his chances, but still he is the leading scorer for the Rebels with his 17.5 ppg, followed by Wood with 13.4 ppg to go along with 9.2 rpg and 29 blocked shots. Defensively, the group is holding foes to just 36.6 percent from the floor, but those opponents are also coming away with 40.0 rpg.