NO. 12 UNLV (16-2, 0-0 MWC) AT NO. 22 SAN DIEGO STATE (14-2, 0-0 MWC)
Time/TV: 4 p.m./NBC Sports Network
Location: Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl
RPI Ratings: UNLV 13 (No. 1 Mountain West); San Diego State 58 (No. 3 Mountain West).
Line: UNLV -2
UNLV Players to Watch: F Chace Stanback, 6-8 Sr. (14.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 50.3% FG); F Mike Moser, 6-8 So. (14.2 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 48.3% FG); G Oscar Bellfield, 6-2 Sr. (9.6 ppg, 5.3 apg, 34.9% 3s). Moser’s 17-point, 11-rebound performance in their most recent win – a 89-57 victory over Cal State Bakersfield last Thursday – was his eight double-double of the season.
San Diego State Players to Watch: G Chase Tapley, 6-2 Jr. (17.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 52.6% FG); G Jamaal Franklin, 6-5 So. (15.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.5 spg); G Xavier Thames, 6-3 So. (11.4 ppg, 5.5 apg, 3.7 rpg). Thames is the engine that makes SDSU go, but the Aztecs were 3-0 while he missed time with a knee injury. Thames is expected to return against UNLV.
Storylines: Both teams have won seven straight games heading into Mountain West Conference play and each has earned its way into the AP and Coaches’ Polls. With its talent, balance and depth, UNLV was expected to be really good, perhaps not this good. San Diego State – after losing four starters – is the surprise of the MWC at 14-2. Although the two programs have combined to win five of the last six league titles, this is the first time the two programs have ever met while both were ranked in the Top 25.
What You Should Know: UNLV has one of the most efficient offenses in the nation, ranking 10th in points at 81.3 and 31st in field goal percentage with a 48.1 percent clip. The Rebels have scored at least 80 points in 10 of their 18 games. San Diego State can score itself. The Aztecs are averaging 75.2 points while shooting better than 47 percent from the field. Both teams like to run, so UNLV’s superior depth could be an advantage. The Rebels are also a better free throw shooting team and that often makes the difference in games that are expected to come down to the final horn. Whether Thames is able to play will also be key.
The Bottom Line: San Diego State has won five in a row and 8-of-9 against the Rebels. However, UNLV proved with a win at Illinois on Dec. 17, it is capable of beating good teams away from home.
The Pick: UNLV 85, San Diego State 81.