That's the final score of UNLV's escape of Air Force in the Thomas & Mack Center back in the middle of January. The Runnin' Rebels needed overtime to hold off the Falcons and avoid an 0-2 start in the Mountain West following a tough loss at The Pit in New Mexico.
Now things are shaping up a little bit more. As we make our way through the second half of conference season, we know that both of these teams are very good, with Air Force being a little bit better than was expected heading into conference season. The Falcons won 5 straight games after their loss to CSU to get to a record of 5-2, including an impressive victory over San Diego State. Then Air Force lost to New Mexico and was surprisingly beaten by Nevada on Saturday.
That leaves Air Force at 5-4 in the conference, which just so happens to be the same record UNLV currently has. With both teams being tied for 4th in the league and only two games behind the likes of Colorado State and New Mexico, this game is pivotal for how things could shake out by the end of the season. The winner has a shot at getting 3rd, 2nd, or even possibly 1st in the league if things shake out the right way for them. The loser more than likely will have to battle their way just to make it to 3rd or 4th in the league.
The bottom line is that both teams really need this win in order to make a push for a high seed in the Mountain West tournament. For UNLV to do that, they're going to have to do pretty much exactly what they did on Saturday. Extremely tight man-to-man defense all game long led to bad shots on most possessions and a bad field goal percentage. Getting Air Force to take tough shots late in the shot clock will allow for UNLV to get out on the break and score easy transition points.
As for Air Force it's pretty simple. Get open shots and make them. Luckily for Air Force, this is not something the Falcons struggle with. They're in the Top 25 in both assists per game and field goal percentage, meaning that they tend to get good looks and knock them down when they do. If they keep doing that, then UNLV is more than likely going to have trouble getting some momentum on their side.
This should be a nice game to complement the Colorado State-San Diego State game tonight. Be sure to tune in and watch both.