SAN DIEGO -- It was not an arrogant, rub-it-in-their-face statement by Steve Fisher, but the San Diego State basketball coach hit on a sore subject with some UNLV players.
Asked about the Aztecs' rivalry with the Rebels, Fisher said: "I believe we've won a lot lately against them. Eight out of nine or something like that. I don't know if that's exactly it."
That's exactly it, including five in a row. Not that Anthony Marshall needed a reminder.
Marshall, a junior guard, is looking to help 12th-ranked UNLV (16-2) stop its losing trend against No. 22 San Diego State (14-2) in the teams' Mountain West Conference opener at 1 p.m. today at Viejas Arena.
"It's very disappointing," Marshall said. "A lot of people are looking at it as a revenge game, but to us it's much more than that."
Each team will put a seven-game win streak on the line, the 12,414-seat arena will be sold out, and NBC Sports Network will televise the matchup nationally. A win by the Rebels would put them in position for a top-10 ranking.
But the "much more" reference by Marshall is about a long-term team goal coach Dave Rice set soon after he was hired in April.
"I remember the first day Coach Rice got here, and we were in the locker room and we had a team meeting," Marshall said. "One of the first things he said is, 'Our goal is to win a regular-season conference championship.' So for us, that's what we're looking to accomplish."
The first step for UNLV -- on the road against its recent nemesis -- could not be much tougher. But San Diego State is the underdog, and Fisher seems to understand why.
The Rebels finally will have a few matchup advantages because of their size, due in part to the addition of 6-foot-8-inch sophomore forward Mike Moser, a transfer from UCLA.
The Aztecs owned the rivalry the past three seasons by using their athletic front line of Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Thomas and Billy White to dominate the lane on both ends, especially defensively. Those three seniors and a fourth, point guard D.J. Gay, powered last season's 34-3 team.
Fisher now utilizes a four-guard lineup led by junior Chase Tapley, who is averaging a team-high 17.3 points and shooting 50 percent from 3-point range.
Senior forward Chace Stanback and Moser, averaging 14.8 and 14.2 points, respectively, should help give UNLV an edge this time. In an October poll, New Mexico was picked as the league favorite, but Fisher said he ranks the Rebels at the top.
"I'm concerned about the talent they have. They have terrific players on that team," Fisher said. "Tre'Von Willis is the only missing piece of significance, and they've added Moser. They come closer to resembling us from a year ago than anybody.
"We're playing arguably the best team in the league. If it were a revote today, hands down Vegas would be voted No. 1 going into conference play. So there's incentive on our side. You've got to find a way to protect home court."
Tapley scored 24 points Tuesday in San Diego State's 73-65 victory over winless Chicago State. The Aztecs' conclusion to their nonconference schedule included four other lightweights: San Diego Christian, Redlands, Elon and UC Riverside.
"It's going to be a test," Tapley said. "I love that we are playing that caliber of a team for the first league game."
San Diego State and UNLV are meeting for the first time with both teams ranked in The Associated Press Top 25. The last meeting, in the Mountain West tournament semifinals in March, was won 74-72 by the Aztecs at the Thomas & Mack Center.
"Almost without fail, every game with two minutes to go could go either way," Fisher said, "and we've won all the close ones."
With a lot seemingly at stake, Rice said the game is one small step in the Rebels' search for the league's regular-season title.
"One game is not going to decide the conference race, win or lose," Rice said. "It's always a challenge to go on the road and win games, and there's not a more difficult road game for us than the one we start with, so we get a tremendous test early.
"We've done something that's really good, and we have a chance to do something that's great. We're not content, by any stretch."
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907.