UNLV went into this game on a three game winning streak. All three of them coming against teams that currently sit at the bottom of the mountain west standings. Edging out an overtime win at home against Fresno State sandwiched in between two blowout victories over Utah State and San Jose state doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence going into a game against a talented and experienced Boise State team.
The Broncos dominated most of the first half and didn't allow UNLV to go on any runs or gain any momentum. The result was a 37-27 advantage going into the second half. Boise State was more aggressive attacking the boards Saturday night, out-rebounding UNLV 30 to 28. This obviously attributed to more possessions and opportunities that Boise State made the most of. Finishing the night 49.1% from the field and 40.0% from three-point range.
It was actually the same story for most of the second half as Boise State kept UNLV at arms length, but failed to put the game out of reach as the closing minutes approached. After Dezmyn Trent put Boise State up by 11 points with under 4 minutes to go, a couple of mistakes lead to Khem Birch finding his way to the line and sinking 4 shots to narrow the gap to 67-60
A missed 3 point jumper by Thomas Bropleh resulted in senior guard Kevin Olekaibe answering with a 3 of his own on the other end. A sign of things to come. With a little over 2 minutes remaining Boise State coach Leon Rice called a timeout hoping to stall the Rebels' run as they had done for most of the night.
After a couple missed free throws from Derrick Marks, UNLV guard Deville Smith got a lay-up on the other end, stole the ball from Mikey Thompson, and took it back once more in the span of 20 seconds to put the Rebels up 68-67. Boise State called another time out and came away with an uncontested lay-up to take a 69-68 lead with 38 seconds remaining.
UNLV called a timeout immediately and with only 34 seconds remaining, it appeared Deville Smith was going to attempt a contested jump shot, but Kevin Olekaibe emerged wide open from the perimeter and Smith kicked it out to him. The senior transfer from Fresno State then hit possibly the most clutch shot of his collegiate career. Completely uncontested, the shot was nothing but net.
After Derrick Marks missed a seemingly open jump-shot, the Runnin' Rebels simply made a couple free throws and walked away with a hard fought victory.
What a freaking game.
The Runnin' Rebels were lead in the scoring department by senior guard Kevin Olekaibe who put up a season high 18 points going 5 of 9 from the field and 4 of 7 from beyond the arc, including the clutch game winner. Forward Khem Birch also had an excellent game, grabbing 15 rebounds, 6 blocks and 15 points going 4 of 7 from the field.
On the other end Derrick Marks lead the way for Boise State, finishing the night with 22 points, going 11 of 19 from the field with 2 rebounds and two steals. Ryan Watkins also grabbed 12 rebounds to go with 11 points and 3 assists.
Fact of the matter is that UNLV was losing these kind of games earlier this season. If they could pull out a win like this against an experienced team like Boise State, I have a lot more faith in this team going forward. The Runnin' Rebels showed resiliency and effort Saturday night. If they can maintain that mentality down the stretch, I believe their capable of beating the best this conference has to offer.
UNLV (15-7, 6-3 Mountain West) will hit the road to face Colorado State Wednesday night at Moby Arena, while Boise State (15-7, 5-4 Mountain West) will return to Taco Bell Arena for a crunchwrap against #5 San Diego State.