GAME NOTES: The UNLV Runnin' Rebels try to defend their home floor tonight, as they tangle with the New Mexico Lobos in Mountain West Conference action at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Just 10-5 in their own building in 2013-14, the Runnin' Rebels are hoping to continue their recent run of strong play as the regular season winds down. The program has won two straight and six of the last seven, thanks to a 73-62 victory against Utah State on the road over the weekend. With the triumph, UNLV is now 8-4 in league play and that had the Rebels in third place in the MWC standings when the week began.
As for the Lobos, they are all alone in second place in the MWC, trailing only sixth-ranked San Diego State. Last Wednesday, UNM had a six-game win streak snapped by Boise State (71-70) on the road, but then responded with a 90-72 thrashing of Nevada at home on Saturday.
The Rebels lead the all-time series by a count of 30-19 and stunned New Mexico in The Pit in the first meeting last month by a score of 76-73. While UNLV has not been dominant at home this season, the squad does own a 14-5 edge in the series at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Cameron Bairstow delivered a double-double consisting of 24 points and 11 rebounds, as the New Mexico Lobos captured the 18-point win over Nevada in a Mountain West Conference battle in The Pit. Also having a strong game for UNM was Alex Kirk who tallied a game-high 29 points, adding five rebounds, five assists and four blocked shots, followed by Cullen Neal with 10 points off the bench. The Lobos outscored Nevada in the paint, 42-24, and turned 13 miscues by the Pack into 22 points.
Through 12 conference games, Bairstow has stolen the spotlight away from Kendall Williams (15.8 ppg, 58 assists) who was expected to be one of the top players in the entire league. However, at this point in the campaign Williams may not even be the most important performer on his own roster, what with Bairstow grinding out 20.6 ppg and clearing 7.2 rpg, while shooting 59.4 percent from the floor. Kirk (14.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg) has combined with Bairstow to register 44 of the unit's 48 blocked shots to give the squad a strong interior presence.
Kevin Olekaibe produced a game-high 21 points, shooting 4-of-8 behind the 3- point line, as the Runnin' Rebels scored the double-digit road win over Utah State in Logan on Saturday. Bryce Dejean-Jones added 17 points and Khem Birch a double-double consisting of 11 points and a team-best 12 rebounds, but still the program was beaten by 10 on the glass, partly due to the fact that Roscoe Smith cleared just five boards, far below his season average.
Over the course of the entire campaign, Smith is averaging a double-double with 11.2 ppg and 11.3 rpg, but taking into consideration only league bouts his numbers dip to 9.1 ppg and 9.3 rpg. Carrying more of the load in the paint is Birch (11.1 ppg) with his 9.4 rpg, accounting for a sensational 46 blocked shots through 12 starts as well. Dejean-Jones checks in with 14.8 ppg, although his 21.6 percent accuracy out on the perimeter is far from ideal.
The door is still open for the Lobos to edge out San Diego State for the top spot in the standings, but if that's going to happen New Mexico needs to take care of business every time it takes the floor moving forward. As long as Kirk and Bairstow can limit Smith in the paint, then the odds look pretty good for the visitors tonight.
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