UNLV may be struggling after losing three out of their last five games, but the Thomas & Mack Center is not a welcome place for Mountain West teams.
The Rebels have won 14 straight home games against conference opponents, and are coming off a stabilizing win against San Diego State over the weekend.
The Rams travel to Las Vegas to take on UNLV tonight in the Thomas & Mack Center at 8:15 p.m.
“They were 18-1 at home last year too, so we have to look at it basically like they’re 33-2, both losses were pretty close so it’d be a big upset,” CSU coach Larry Eustachy said. “Our guys think we can win and that’s most of the battle.”
Tonight’s game will be the second time the Rams and Rebels have clashed on the hardwood this year. UNLV took a trip to Fort Collins on Jan. 19, leaving Moby after being defeated by only five points in the final moments of the game.
“Last time, we played these guys down to the wire, we know how tough of a game this is going to be, whether it’s here or there,” senior forward Greg Smith said. “I know they feel like they gave that one away, so we just have to go out there and get the same result.”
The Rebels will present a threat to the strengths of CSU’s game. The Rams have led the nation in grabbing rebounds, however UNLV is second in the conference directly behind CSU, with 40.8 per game.
“It’s the number one thing we need to get done in this game, because they outrebounded us by two in our last game. If we get those, the turnout could have been different,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “They’ve played 25 games and have outrebounded their opponents 25 times, I dont think thats a coincidence.”
Freshman forward Anthony Bennett provides a strong presence on the block for the Rebels, ranking in the conference’s top five in scoring (18 ppg) and rebounding (8.7 rpg).
Bennett scored 21 points Saturday in the team’s win against SDSU and will be a focus of CSU’s offense.
“You’ve got to limit his catches, which is hard, guard him on the other and and try to get him tired,” Eustachy said. “He’s projected the No. 1 pick in the draft, so just like (Michael) Lyons at Air Force, sometimes there’s just no answer for him.”
With a victory, CSU would move into a tie for first in the MW with No. 16 New Mexico. The Rams and Lobos play at Moby Saturday, setting up a game for outright first place in the conference.
“It’s a great thing, this conference, it used to just be one or two teams down the stretch. Now, there are four or five teams that can win on any given night,” Smith said. “These Mountain West wins are always much more appreciated.”