Air Force offers unique challenge

UNLV’s basketball players get to experience twice a season what their football counterparts go through — a week to prepare for an opponent.

The Rebels (16-4, 4-2 Mountain West Conference) are grateful, getting ready for an Air Force team (9-10, 0-6) that is unlike any other in the league. They meet at 1 p.m. PST Saturday at Air Force.

“You need a week, without a doubt, to get ready for Air Force,” guard Rene Rougeau said. “The back cutting and that Princeton offense is so tough. More than anything else, we’ve got to work on driving the ball and stuff like that because they like to make you stand around a lot in that matchup zone. If you’re not aggressive the whole time, that can come back to haunt you.”

Though the Falcons are struggling, they spread out the scoring. Three players average more than 11 points per game, and all are within about two points of each other.

“They’ve got a lot of guys that can score,” coach Lon Kruger said. “They’re a different style. They’re very patient, they’re tough. We’ve got to worry about everyone.”

A week without a game has benefits other than preparing for a unique opponent.

“You get more weightlifting (repetitions) in, you get more shots up in the gym, you take care of the classroom responsibilities,” guard Tre’Von Willis said. “It gives us the chance to come together as a team, to talk more.”

WIDE-OPEN RACE — As the Rebels took Wednesday night off, the battle for the Mountain West regular-season title became even crazier.

Victories by New Mexico, San Diego State and Utah put them in a tie with UNLV for first place.

The question for the conference is whether this is a good thing.’s Joe Lunardi projects three Mountain West teams making the NCAA Tournament — with UNLV getting a rematch with Kansas — but parity could be a poor selling point if the teams beat up on each other.

“The more balanced we are, probably the less chance of getting three or four teams in the postseason tournament,” Kruger said. “If three teams, for instance, were to separate themselves, then that would probably enhance the chance of getting three.”

ODDS AND ENDS — UNLV has won 11 of 13 games, and Air Force has lost seven in a row. … The Rebels opened the series with a 14-1 advantage, but Air Force has won seven of the past 12 meetings. … The Falcons are last in the conference in scoring offense (61.3 average) but second in scoring defense (60.3).

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at or 702-387-2914.

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