Rebels come into the postseason tournament losers in 3 out of their last 4 regular season games.
Winner will play a rested and ready Utah State team on Thursday afternoon.
UNLV is looking to win a game in the Mountain West Tournament for the first time since 2018.
Game: UNLV (11-14 8-10) vs Air Force (5-19 3-17)
Location: Thomas and Mack Center Las Vegas, Nevada
Regular season results between these two teams:
2/6 – UNLV won 68-58
2/8 – UNLV won 69-64
Both games were played at the Thomas and Mack Center.
UNLV saved it worst effort for last against Wyoming losing 80 – 69 on Saturday night, the game wasn’t even that close for alot of the second half. Three point shooting again showed its ugly face for the Rebels, as Wyoming hit 7 more threes then the Rebels did. Bryce Hamilton was solid for UNLV with 17 points, David Jenkins had 10, Edoardo Del Cadia was a surprisingly good contributor off the bench for TJ Otzelberger with 13 good points. Past that it was scarce for a UNLV team that was searching desperately for a better effort to end their year. In order to avoid another one and done in the conference tournament, UNLV will be focusing on these keys:
This Air Force team has been much more disappointing than UNLV, the Falcons are last in the league in scoring at 59 points per game, second to last in scoring defense(73 ppg allowed). Last in rebounding(22 rpg), 8th in the league in three-point percentage and surprisingly for an Air Force team, they arent very good at the free throw line at 68 percent. What kept them in both games in Las Vegas was UNLV’s continued issues shooting the three(they Rebels were 2-14 in game one) and that bad UNLV defense, which has been subpar most of the conference season.
Turning the trends?
A huge question mark here for UNLV, a team that has been so poor defensively and not much better offensively, is for someone to step up and hit a big shot and get a much needed defensive stop. Trends and stats are important to look at, especially this time of year. While UNLV is a better then average rebounding team, they are in middle of the conference statistically or worse in every other category. They are 7th in scoring, field goal percentage, free throw percentage and assists. They are 6th in terms of turnovers and steals. They are also 8th in blocked shots.
Third time is the charm?
In both games against Air Force, UNLV allowed the Falcons to shoot over 40 percent from both the field and from three. In fact, in the first game between these teams on February 6th, Air Force shot 50 percent from the floor. The Falcons were allowed to hang around due to bad shot selection and a less then discipline defensive strategy. The Rebels were lucky to win those games. Will their luck run out or are they able to live to see Utah State, a team who they beat at the Thomas and Mack once this season?
Players to watch
Air Force – A.J. Walker
Just over a month ago, in two games against the Rebels in the very same building, Walker torched the Rebels, the junior averaged 20 points per game while knocking down 8 threes over two matchups. Even though UNLV won those two games, they weren’t impressive while doing so. The Rebels will need to do a better job on the dangerous guard (who shoots 46% from field), if they want to see another game in this tournament.
UNLV – David Jenkins Jr.
Jenkins is UNLV’s best outside shooter, shooting better then 41 percent from three. He also shoots 40 percent from the field, second on the team to Bryce Hamilton. The question for Rebel fans, which David shows up? The one who is non-existent and scores in single digits in points or the one who scores 30 points and carries his team to victory. Too many inconsistencies and subpar effort from this UNLV team this season could be the reason for an early exit and a very interesting off-season, potentially filled with a lot of turnover, coaching, and player wise.
Interesting series and tournament factoids –
Air force is 6-21 all time in the Mountain West Conference tournament. UNLV has a record of 27-17. These two teams last met in the postseason tournament in 2016 and 2018. Both were UNLV wins in overtime, 97-90 in one overtime in 2018 and a 108-102 victory in triple overtime in 2016. Air Force has won a game in this tournament three out of the last four years. All were opening round games played on Wednesday.
Prediction – UNLV 65 – 59
The 12 point spread in a conference tournament game is too much in my opinion. UNLV didn’t beat Air Force by 12 in either game they played during the regular season and hasnt looked worthy of being favored by that much most of the year. While the Rebels may win the game, take the Falcons and the points.
Jayson Williams covers UNLV basketball for the Mountain West Wire and Co-hosts “The Vegas Fever Podcast “.