Typically games between New Mexico and UNLV are tightly contested affairs with a lot at stake in terms of winning the Mountain West and positioning yourself for the NCAA Tournament. This year things are a little different.
While the Lobos (20-5, 11-2) appear to be on their way to March Madness and could potentially catch San Diego State (23-2, 12-1) with two meetings between the two remaining in conference play, UNLV (17-9, 8-5) has had an up and down year and at this point doesn't even appear to be on the bubble. Lacking any true quality wins outside of a victory over UNM in the Pit earlier this season, the Runnin' Rebels went into this game hoping to improve their resume with a sweep over New Mexico.
New Mexico guard Kendall Williams got things going early and often. Drilling two 3-pointers within the first 5 minutes and finishing the night 11 of 17 from the field and 4 of 7 from three point range. Williams was the go to guy for the Lobos all night. Whenever UNLV sought to make a run and close the deficit, Williams found a way to answer on the other end and took away any kind of momentum the Rebels were building.
Credit has to be given to the New Mexico defense as well. UNLV shot a horrendous 19 of 60 from the field and went 3 of 21 from the beyond the perimeter. Although poor shot selection attributed to the Rebels' woes, the Lobos didn't give them anything easy. UNLV struggled to get anything inside and more often then not found themselves kicking it out and taking ill-advised shots as a result of solid New Mexico defense.
The highest scoring UNLV player on the night was Khem Birch who managed 11 points and 12 rebounds. This is a problem considering the Rebels had only 3 players in double digits Wednesday night. Often times this season, the Rebels have found themselves without a player like New Mexico's Kendall Williams. A player who can provide explosiveness and be a major factor on offense.
Bryce Dejean-Jones takes enough shots to qualify as this type of player, but he's been unable to consistently produce on offense for the Runnin' Rebels this season. Wednesday night's performance being a prime example. Going 4 of 12 from the field and 1 of 5 from 3 point range simply won't cut it.
Senior forward Cameron Bairstow was also a solid contributor for New Mexico Wednesday night, putting up 18 points to go with 5 blocks and 6 rebounds. He was clearly a factor on both ends of the court.
UNLV will now head to Taco Bell Arena to face Boise State (17-9, 7-6) Saturday night in a game that can be seen on CBS Sports Network, while New Mexico will host No. 6 San Diego State (23-2, 12-1) Saturday night in a huge game that will once again be televised on ESPN 2.