As has been the case in recent years, UNLV found itself in a dogfight with the San Diego Aztecs. However, unlike last season, the Rebels were able to stem the tide and take control in the second half and come away with another big conference win. Although the final difference was 10 points, the game was much closer than that until the final few minutes. Two of UNLV's transfers, Tre'Von Willis and Chace Stanback were the difference makers in the second half, combining for 41 total points. In one stretch, Willis scored 14 of UNLV's 16 points.
Once again the Rebels found themselves getting killed on the boards, both offensively and defensively. Although SDSU runs a frenetic, fast-paced type of game, their big bodies stepped up for them. The combination of the two had UNLV out of sync for extended stretches of the first half. The Aztecs jumped out to as big as an 8 point lead, and went into the half up 6 points. Leading scorer Billy White was playing his first game back from a high ankle sprain, and was mostly a non-factor, fouling out with 5 points in 16 minutes of play. Kawhi Leonard and Malcolm Thomas were the major factors inside, combining for 25 points and 17 boards. UNLV struggled all not long trying to get bodies on them.
For UNLV, Stanback and Willis are developing into a solid combination. Willis has been the leader of this team from the get-go, while Stanback has taken time to find his rhythm with the Rebels. One thing I have noticed is that when needed, he's been able to hit key momentum-stopping deep 2-pt jumpers. He finished with a career-high 18 points, and if he can gain some consistency, the Rebels will find themselves that much deeper.
Outside of those two, the Rebels got another solid game from PG Oscar Bellfield, who finished with 12 points and 6 assists. Since conference play began last week he leads the conference in assists. In only his second year, that certainly bodes well for the Rebels' future. Guard Kendall Wallace had a rough shooting night (2/8 from 3), but his second three was the basket that put UNLV up for good in the second half, 50-48.
UNLV: I think it's fair to say that UNLV had the toughest 3-game stretch to open play in the Mountain West. UNLV went to BYU and New Mexico, and then had SDSU at home, a season after being swept by them. To come out of that stretch 2-1 is a very important accomplishment if UNLV is going to bring home the regular season conference title and get into the NCAA tournament. UNLV gets Utah at home this weekend, followed by a trip up to Ft. Collins to face a feisty Colorado State team that is 2-0 in conference (even if it has come against two of the bottom-dwellers). Utah struggled to hang close at New Mexico tonight, and will be looking for an upset to salvage a road-split at UNLV.
SDSU: The Aztecs head home to face TCU this weekend, and then go on the road to Utah next Tuesday. The Aztecs have been considered the #3 or #4 team in the conference, depending on who you ask. A loss at UNLV is nothing to hang your head about, but coming off a rather brutal loss at Wyoming, it certainly will sting. It's still early, but SDSU will need to pick up wins in both of the next two games, particularly with BYU coming to town in a week and a half.