LOGAN – Visiting college basketball teams used to fear the Thomas & Mack Center. It has been significantly less intimidating this year.
UNLV has won eight at games at its arena this season, but lost nine. To say it’s been a down year for the Rebels would be an understatement. UNLV owns the bottom spot in the conference standings, has a nine-game losing streak and lost the last two games by an average of 29.5 points.
Head coach Tim Duryea said he is used to UNLV having a lot of talent on its roster, and that its surprising to see the team having a down year.
“They had a very tumultuous spring and summer with two coaching changes and a lot of departure from their roster last year,” he said. “One of the guys they had coming back has been injured all year, Dwayne Morgan. They are playing a lot of new, first-year guys. As we know, that can sometimes be hard.”
One of UNLV’s losses came at the hands of Utah State in Logan. Koby McEwen dropped 28 points – tying a school record for a freshman – in USU’s 79-63 win. Duryea said UNLV has changed its lineup since then. Jovan Mooring, a 6-foot-2 junior guard leading the team with 12.4 points per game, wasn’t a part of the starting lineup. Neither was 6-11 freshman forward Cheickna Dembele. It’s a bigger lineup now than last time. The defense has been tweaked as well.
“They are playing more man-to-man now than they were then,” Duryea said. “They were playing a lot of zone earlier in the year and from what I’ve seen on tape they are playing more man and trying to pressure you out a little bit.”
Duryea said his biggest concern going into this game where his players will be mentally. He doesn’t want them to relax or pay attention to UNLV’s spot in the league standings. He wants them to approach the game like they did at San Jose State – with “a lot of energy.”
“Anybody can beat anybody on either court on any given night in this league,” he said. “Vegas has had some scores that have been all over the board, some really close games and some games where teams have gotten away from them. It is their last home game and it is their Senior Night and you expect a very spirited effort from them.”
Utah State is currently tied for the No. 8 spot in the tournament, but could still move up with a win if other games play out in USU’s favor. If the team loses, it can’t move any higher.
“With all we are playing for we are trying to get ourselves prepared and play as well as we can and ride the momentum that we have created over the last week-to-10-days through the tournament,” Duryea said.
Tonight’s game will start at 9 p.m. MT.