A crowd of 10,000 fans are expected to pack the Lawlor Events Center on Saturday Night as the Nevada Wolf Pack host the UNLV Runnin' Rebels in the first regular season meeting this year between the two in-state rivals. Last season, the Wolf Pack and the Rebels split the two regular season meetings and in the first round of the 2015 Mountain West Conference Tournament, the Rebels defeated the Wolf Pack 67-46.
The Wolf Pack are coming off a huge road win over Wyoming on Wednesday night by a score of 75-69. That game saw the Wolf Pack come from a ten-point deficit to defeating the Cowboys and giving them back to back road wins since 2013-14. They now face a UNLV team that is on a three game winning streak since they fired Dave Rice back on January 10th. The Rebels are a very balanced team on offense and on defense use their length and athleticism to pressure opponents into turning the ball over. The Rebels have six players who score average close to ten points a game and on defense the Rebels force 16 turnovers a game.
A possible match-up to watch in this game is the one between UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman and Nevada forward Cameron Oliver. Zimmerman averages ten points and nine rebounds a game (second in the Mountain West) and also averages two blocks per game. While Oliver averages 11 points and seven rebounds per game to go along with averaging two blocks per game. Oliver needs to stay out of foul trouble because the Wolf Pack's lack of size and athleticism in the front court is something the Rebels can exploit. For Nevada to win, they must not only protect the ball and rebound well (the Rebels have out-rebounded opponents by nine rebounds a game during their three game winning streak), the Wolf Pack must force UNLV to turn the ball over and score off of those turnovers. The Rebels turn the ball over almost as much as they force turnovers as they have committed 14 turnovers a game this season.
I expect this game to be a close contest that will be decided in the final minutes of the game. UNLV on paper has more talent and athleticism than Nevada does but I think the Wolf Pack can counter the Rebels talent and athleticism by playing with a lot of energy and feeding off of the pro-Wolf Pack crowd that will be in Lawlor combine that and hitting some big shots, I think the Wolf Pack will pull off the victory over there in-state rivals on Saturday.
Prediction: Wolf Pack 70 Rebels 68