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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Wednesday, January 1, 3 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Save Mart Center (15,596) -- Fresno, California. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: UNLV 6-3, FSU 6-1. Away Record: UNLV 1-1, FSU 1-4. Neutral Record: UNLV 2-0, FSU 0-1. Conference Record: UNLV 0-0, FSU 0-0. Series Record: UNLV leads, 28-7.
GAME NOTES: Mountain West Conference play begins on Wednesday afternoon for the UNLV Runnin' Rebels and Fresno State Bulldogs, as the teams clash at the Save Mart Center.
A rocky start to the campaign has largely been forgotten for UNLV, which has reeled off six straight wins to improve to 9-4. The Rebels have split their only two true road tests, but will be back at home against Air Force next. UNLV went 10-6 against the rest of the MWC last season.
Fresno State was able to put an end to a three-game losing streak in its last outing, giving itself some momentum as it attempts to improve on a 5-11 league mark from a year ago. The Bulldogs have won six of their seven home games, but they visit Boise State in their next duel.
Even though UNLV was the team with the better conference record last season, Fresno State still completed the sweep. It was a rare string of success for the Bulldogs against the Rebels, who lead the all-time series by a count of 28-7.
UNLV's most recent triumph was an 83-64 romp over Cal State Fullerton. Roscoe Smith (17 points, 14 rebounds) and Khem Birch (12 points, 10 rebounds) each recorded double-doubles in the victory, during which the Rebels held the Titans to just 34.9 percent shooting.
Controlling the boards and hammering teams on defense has been the running theme for UNLV this season. The Rebels rank 10th nationally and sit atop the MWC in rebounding (43.1 pg), while holding opponents to 64.1 ppg and a 38.9 percent success rate from the floor. The bulk of the offensive load is shared among a group of four players, led by Smith (13.1 ppg, 13.2 rpg), who is basically a double-double waiting to happen. In fact, Smith is tied with Kentucky's Julius Randle and Northeastern's Scott Eatherton for the most double-doubles (13) in the country. Bryce Dejean-Jones (12.5 ppg), Birch (11.8 ppg, 9.4 rpg) and Kevin Olekaibe (10.6 ppg) weigh in as well.
It was rather easy sledding for Fresno State when it was last on the floor, as the Bulldogs set a program record for margin of victory with a 104-43 shellacking of UC Merced, a NAIA foe. Fresno State limited its overmatched opponent to 25.4 percent shooting and also collected 35 more rebounds.
Obviously such dominant performances have not been common place for Fresno State this season, as it allows its foes to connect on 43.4 percent from the field and average 71.5 ppg. The Bulldogs don't often dominate the boards either, ranking seventh in the MWC in rebounding (35.2 ppg), which is also where they rank in scoring offense (76.2 ppg). Five different players are netting double figures on a consistent basis, led by Marvelle Harris (16 ppg, 5.2 rpg). Cezar Guerrero (14 ppg, 4.3 apg) is the second option and takes on most of the ball-handling responsibilities. Tyler Johnson (12.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg) leads the team on the glass, and Paul Watson (11.9 ppg) and Allen Huddleston (10.8 ppg) are also producing.
With how dominant they are on the interior, it is unlikely that the Rebels will once again fail to top Fresno State, even on the road.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UNLV 77, Fresno State 70
01/01 10:32:21 ET