The UNLV men’s basketball team will open play in the 2023 Mountain West Basketball Championship against Air Force on Wednesday, March 8 at 1:30 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Runnin’ Rebels are the No. 7 seed, while the Falcons are No. 10. The winner of that contest will move on to the quarterfinals to face No. 2 seed Boise State on Thursday, March 9 at 6 p.m. Wednesday’s game will be broadcast on the Mountain West Network.
LAST TIME OUT: UNLV closed the regular-season with a two-point overtime win at UNR on Saturday, 69-67. The win gave the Runnin’ Rebels their second straight regular-season sweep of the Wolf Pack as EJ Harkless, who was named Second Team All-MW this week, recorded his third straight 20+ point scoring game, leading all scorers with 24 points. Luis Rodriguez added 14 points and a season-high 13 rebounds for his second double-double of the season, while Jackie Johnson III had 12 points and Justin Webster scored 10. David Muoka tied his career high with 13 rebounds.
THIS SEASON: Harkless leads the team in scoring with 18.6 ppg (2nd in MW) and assists with 3.2 apg, while he is contributing 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game (7th in MW). Keshon Gilbert is second in scoring at 11.5 ppg, also averaging 3.2 apg and a team-leading 1.7 spg (3rd in MW). Luis Rodriguez is third in scoring with 10.9 ppg, while leading the team in rebounding (5.6 rpg). He is third on the squad in total steals with 45 (1.8 spg, 2nd in MW). David Muoka is third on the team in rebounding (4.7 rpg) and leads the squad in blocks with 1.4 bpg (5th in MW).
This season’s Runnin’ Rebel squad features six returners and nine newcomers, including six transfers from the Division I level. The 15-man roster is made up of 10 upperclassmen.
ABOUT THE OPPONENT: Air Force (14-17, 5-13) enters Wednesday’s game on a three-game losing streak, which includes a loss at UNLV on Feb. 24 (54-53). The other two setbacks are home games against Fresno State (74-69) and San Jose State (63-61). The Falcons are led in scoring by Jake Heidbreder (14.8 ppg, 10th in MW) and Rytis Petraitis (10.2 ppg). Petraitis leads the team in rebounding (6.1 rpg, 8th in MW) and steals (1.0 spg), while Ethan Taylor is the team’s assist leader (3.2 apg) and Corbin Green leads in blocks (1.4, 4th in MW). Air Force is 4-8 in road games this season. AFA is seventh in the country in 3-point field-goal percentage defense (29.0) and 33rd in effective field-goal percentage (.545). Air Force was 11-18 overall last season and finished 10th in the MW last season with a conference mark of 4-13. This year’s team was picked to finish last in the MW’s preseason poll. Air Force’s 19-man roster includes just three upperclassmen. The Falcons are coached by Joe Scott, who is in his seventh season at the school with a mark of 81-118 (.407) and his 19th season overall as a collegiate head coach with a career record of 265-295 (.473).
LAST MEETING: In this season’s lone meeting between UNLV and Air Force, which was less than two weeks ago on Feb. 24 at the Thomas & Mack Center, the Runnin’ Rebels won a nailbiter 54-53. Trailing by a point with under 10 seconds to play, Johnson III stole Air Force’s inbound pass and after Gilbert missed a contested layup, EJ Harkless grabbed the offensive rebound and made the putback with 1.8 seconds to play giving UNLV the one-point win. Harkless led all scorers with 23 points and had a team-high seven rebounds to pace UNLV, which snapped a three-game losing streak. Harkless scored 19 of his points in the second half. Air Force was led by Heidbreder and Petraitis, who each scored 16 points. Petraitis collected a game-high 10 rebounds for the double-double.
BROADCAST INFO: Wednesday’s game will be broadcast on the Mountain West Network with Nate Kreckman and Richie Schueler calling the action. Jon Sandler, former Runnin’ Rebel Curtis Terry and Steve Cofield (sidelines) will handle the UNLV radio call, which may be heard live on ESPN Radio 1100 in Las Vegas. All streaming links and live stats will be available at UNLVRebels.com and through the UNLV Rebels App.