FACTS & STATS: Site: Thomas & Mack Center (18,500) -- Las Vegas, Nevada.
Television: CBSSN. Home Record: Air Force 13-2, UNLV 17-2. Away Record: Air
Force 3-9, UNLV 6-6. Neutral Record: Air Force 1-1, UNLV 0-0. Conference
Record: Air Force 8-8, UNLV 10-6. Series Record: UNLV leads, 29-9.
GAME NOTES: Once again, the UNLV Runnin' Rebels get to enjoy some home cooking
during the 14th annual Mountain West Conference Tournament as they take on the
Air Force Falcons in quarterfinal-round action at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Seeded third in this year's event, the Runnin' Rebels have captured the crown
a total of three times, most recently back in 2008 when they repeated as
tournament champs against BYU. UNLV had some ups and downs this season,
dealing with key injuries, but still the squad finished with a 10-6 mark in
conference play, although it did have a five-game win streak snapped in the
regular-season finale when it bowed to Fresno State at home, 61-52.
Meanwhile, the sixth-seeded Falcons have had almost no success in this
tournament over the years, showing just two wins in 15 opportunities dating
back to 2000. The squad was middle-of-the-road as far as conference play was
concerned during the regular season, splitting 16 MWC outings.
During the regular season these teams split their two meetings, with the game
being played in Sin City going to overtime before the hosts captured a 76-71
victory back in January. With the Falcons having won the more recent battle on
Feb. 13 by a score of 71-56, it means the all-time series now stands at 29-9
in favor of UNLV.
The winner of this meeting will head to the semifinals on Friday to clash with
the survivor of the Fresno State/Colorado State battle.
The Falcons built up the early portion of their slate with plenty of
victories, but most of those were against sub par opponents that did little to
prepare the academy for a real MWC schedule. In fact, over the final nine
games of the regular season, the Academy won a total of just three times, one
of those coming against a sputtering Wyoming group. Air Force did raise more
than a few eyebrows with what has to be considered one of their biggest wins
in recent memory, the one-point victory versus New Mexico on Saturday, but it
seems to be more a case of the Falcons capturing lightning in a bottle more
than anything else right now. Michael Lyons, who dropped 45 points on Colorado
State a few weeks ago, leads the offense with 18.3 ppg, but beyond that there
is not much that stands out for a program that has just two wins in this event
since its inception. Mike Fitzgerald chips in with another 11.4 ppg in
conference play and was one of the better rebounders in those contests with
close to four per outing as well.
The UNLV Runnin' Rebels may have finished third in the standings this season,
but still the team is quite the enigma as it gets ready to host the sixth-
seeded Air Force Falcons in the quarters on Wednesday. UNLV,
which has won this tournament three times and has appeared in the title game a
total of seven times already, should have been pummeling opponents with the
lineup it had going into the season. Mike Moser was supposed to dominate for
the program, but he was slowed by injuries and then started back up as a
reserve, resulting in just 7.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per contest after being
a regular double-double threat last season. Anthony Bennett exploded onto the
scene in his first year with 15.9 ppg and 8.1 rpg, but he too suffered an
injury late in the campaign, and the squad then closed out the regular season
with a loss at home versus Fresno State so you have to wonder where their
heads are at right now.
Being at home should be enough to give the Runnin' Rebels a lift in this
meeting, but it all depends on how well Bennett and Moser perform in the
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UNLV 72, Air Force 61