San Diego State guard Jamaal Franklin celebrates his three-point shot against Colorado State during their Mountain West Conference tournament semifinal game Friday, March 9, 2012 at the Thomas & Mack Center. - Sam Morris/Las Vegas Sun
UNLV rebounded from their tough loss in The Pit to New Mexico last Wednesday with an overtime home victory over Air Force. Will that give them enough momentum to beat a very good Aztec squad?
UNLV travels to San Diego on Wednesday to take on the Aztecs in Viejas Arena, and if history is any indication, this will be a very hard fought, close game. Last season, San Diego State won the game in Viejas Arena by a Jamaal Franklin buzzer to beat the Rebels by two. In the game at the Thomas & Mack Center, UNLV held off the Aztecs with a Justin Hawkins steal on the final play of the game to squeak out a two point victory as well. Will history repeat itself? Who knows.
UNLV is just starting to get their main rotation into gear, after finally putting Khem Birch and Mike Moser into the starting lineup, and I'm not completely convinced that the continuity is there yet. As the season goes on, the players certainly will become more comfortable, but Saturday's matchup with Air Force was the first time that we saw the lineup as it most likely will be for the rest of the season.
What this game features is the first time we will see Mountain West Player of the Year candidates match up. Jamaal Franklin for San Diego State has been averaging a double-double at the guard position while Anthony Bennett has been playing at the same level as Franklin, but in the post. How both teams plan to contain the opponents star player should be interesting to see.
Franklin doesn't just pop out to you as a dominant scorer, but rather he gets a lot of rebounds and makes most of his shots when he gets them. It will be very important for UNLV, who has had struggles keeping teams off of the offensive boards of late, to get a body on Franklin, box out, and get the rebound after a good defensive possession. Second chance points killed the Runnin' Rebels in their three losses this season.
San Diego State has a major advantage in the fact that they don't turn the ball over very often. UNLV thrives offensively off turnovers, fast break points, and transition opportunities, and San Diego State can limit that by simply hanging on to the ball and not allowing long rebounds that lead to transition opportunities for the Runnin' Rebels.
Who comes out with the victory on this one is very difficult to predict. Both have dominant POY candidates and a great supporting cast as well. In the end, it most likely is going to come down to who finishes the game out on a high note. In that sense, I'm going to be predicting, a close game in which the Aztecs sort of lengthen their lead in the final minutes of the game.