Image coutesy of Las Vegas Review Journal
In front of a packed house of 50, and coming off of an impressive win wherein the UNLV Rebels played a nail-biter down to the final possession, game two of the series between UNLV and Utah State was sure to be a thriller as the two tipped off at the illustrious Thomas & Mack Center.
Utah State Aggies came out swinging as they were the overwhelming favorite coming into Monday’s matchup and seemed determined to rewrite the narrative on this series.
Both teams seemed determined out of the gate with defensive efforts abundant for both teams.
An evenly matched affair for most of the first half, both teams traded buckets and stops and remained tied for the majority of the first half.
Fortunately, as has been the case for most of the season, UNLV’s defense was on full display with the help of veteran center Chiekh Mbacke and rising star, Moses Wood.
While the scoring was less evenly distributed for the Rebels than it was for the Aggies, their starters more than showed up, amounting for the entirety of their first half points. The lack of parity eventually led to an Aggie run toward the end of the first half.
While bench scoring hasn’t necessarily been a problem for the Runnin Rebs, coaches generally prefer a balanced team effort.
If the Mountain West teams that are most poised to reach the top of the conference heap hold records of +.500, the UNLV Rebels were in desperate need of a win.
After entering the second half up 3, the Aggies opened up the second half of play on a 7-0 run and would take a 10 point lead early on. They’d maintain a double digit lead well into the second period as the Rebs would continue to move personnel around to adjust to the Aggies’ length and energy.
While strong opinions surround second year coach T.J. Otzelberger, two things were certain; this team needed a new coach and new talent.
The grand exodus from South Dakota State that was coach Otz, David Jenkins and Caleb Grill seems to have greatly benefited the UNLV Rebels as they consistently rely on not only the leadership, but the two new transplants for regular scoring.
The UNLV energy seemed tepid for most of the second half of play which seemed to permeate onto the bench. Usually a lively sideline with coaches rarely seated, the Rebels bench seemed a bit flat.
A scary moment at the 8:05 mark when Runnin Rebs’ forward Devin Tillis went out of the game with what appeared to be an arm or hand injury.
With just under four minutes of play left, the rebels trailed by 14 and were in desperate need of an offensive jolt. While neither team’s bench would contribute greatly, UNLV only had 11 bench points on the night which isn’t how they are accustomed to playing or, frankly winning.
The Aggies woud go on to split the series with a 83-74 win.
The Rebels next challenge is aginst their nemesis the UNR Wolfpack in a two game away series in Reno. Game one is to tip off Sunday January 31st with the second round of this Mountain West double-header is scheduled for Tueday Feb 2nd.