UNLV (19-11) at Nevada (14-16)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, March 8, 10:05 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Lawlor Events Center (11,536) -- Reno, Nevada. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: UNLV 11-7, Nevada 6-8. Away Record: UNLV 6-4, Nevada 8-6. Neutral Record: UNLV 2-0, Nevada 0-2. Conference Record: UNLV 10-7, Nevada 9-8. Series Record: UNLV leads, 56-20.
GAME NOTES: Bragging rights in the Silver State are on the line as the Nevada Wolf Pack entertain the Runnin' Rebels of UNLV in Mountain West Conference action at the Lawlor Events Center in Reno.
Not only are the teams fighting for state supremacy, there is also plenty of movement to be made in the MWC standings before the conference tournament begins next week. The Runnin' Rebels had a chance to make a major statement against 10th-ranked San Diego State on Wednesday night, but they lost their edge late in the meeting and bowed in a 73-64 final at the Thomas & Mack Center.
As a result of the setback, UNLV, which was playing without starting forward Roscoe Smith due to a concussion, fell to 10-7 in conference play and in sole possession of third place with the regular season winding up.
As for the Wolf Pack, a team that had a lot of trouble getting on track in 2013-14, they went to double-overtime at Boise State three nights ago and managed to come away with a narrow 83-81 triumph. The victory was the second in the last three outings for a Nevada team which is tied with the Broncos for fourth in the standings at 9-8.
In terms of the all-time series between these familiar foes, UNLV maintains a solid 56-20 advantage over the Wolf Pack heading into this clash. Nevada slipped by the Runnin' Rebels in Las Vegas in the first meeting of the season back on Jan. 8 by a score of 74-71.
Playing without Roscoe Smith, Khem Birch picked up quite a bit of the slack for the Rebels as he nearly had a double-double in the first half Wednesday night, before finishing with 16 points, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots in the losing cause. Kevin Olekaibe accounted for 11 points, shooting just 1-of-5 behind the 3-point line during some erratic play, while Jelan Kendrick tacked on 10 points off the bench as he hit all four of his field-goal tries for a squad that connected on only 38.5 percent from the field and was charged with 16 turnovers.
The status of Roscoe Smith, one of the nation's leading rebounders with 11.0 rpg to go along with 11.0 ppg, is still unclear heading into the weekend, which means Birch may again have to take on more responsibility in the paint at both ends of the floor. Birch (11.7 ppg) is good for almost 10 rebounds per game himself, but it is at the defensive end where he truly shines as one of the nation's top shot-blockers with 114 rejections through 30 games.
The Wolf Pack had to grind it out for a full 50 minutes on Wednesday night against Boise State before coming up with the win at Taco Bell Arena, but all of the action may be remembered for just a single dunk, a vicious throw down by Deonte Burton as he finished with 25 points and eight assists, followed by Michael Perez with 17 points. Before fouling out, Jerry Evans accounted for 15 points and seven boards, while Marqueze Coleman came in off the bench and accounted for 12 points for the visitors as well.
He made a point to show that he could rise up with the best of them in the MWC and in the country on Wednesday, but Burton is simply a scorer through and through. Playing close to 39 minutes per game and starting all 30 contests this season and every game he has ever played in his college career for the Pack, Burton is averaging 19.9 ppg and is also first on the unit with 128 assists and 45 steals, not to mention coming up with 4.2 rpg. Evans pops up for 12.8 ppg and 6.2 rpg, but clearly this is a team that belongs to Burton.
The outcome of this game hinges on the availability of Roscoe Smith. Since the Runnin' Rebels cannot climb any higher in the standings before the start of the conference tournament, it might make sense just to rest the big man even if he is cleared to play. Unfortunately for UNLV, that could also cost the group another victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Nevada 78, UNLV 74
03/08 11:58:09 ET