ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — UNLV did what it had to do the first two Mountain West games, but coach Marvin Menzies knows what’s coming.
Having coached at New Mexico State for nine seasons and now in his third at UNLV, he is more than familiar with Dreamstyle Arena, better known as The Pit.
“We’ve had a couple looks (at other crowded arenas), but they haven’t seen The Pit yet,” Menzies said of his players. “The Pit is no joke. It’s going to be interesting to see how they respond. It will be good preparation for playing at San Diego State with ‘The Show.’ For playing at Reno with that fan base.”
UNR learned Saturday about the risk of venturing into The Pit, suffering its first loss of the season in an 85-58 blowout, dropping the Wolf Pack four spots in The Associated Press poll to No. 10. And now UNLV (8-6, 2-0 MW) gets its shot at the Lobos (8-6, 2-0) at 8 p.m. Tuesday in a game that will be televised on ESPN2.
Menzies knows what it’s like to be successful in what is a typically raucous New Mexico atmosphere, taking the Rebels there two years ago and winning 71-66 despite being 10½-point underdogs.
Can he do it again?
The Rebels are 4-point underdogs, meaning they should at least be in the game.
UNLV opened conference play with a shaky 78-76 victory over Colorado State on Wednesday, and trailed 32-30 at halftime Saturday to Wyoming, before taking control in the second half en route to a 68-56 victory.
As Menzies said after beating the Cowboys, his team didn’t exactly beat UNR and San Diego State to open conference play, but UNLV nevertheless is 2-0 for the first time in 13 years. The Rebels have never opened 3-0 against Mountain West teams.
New Mexico, a team the Rebels play twice in their next four games, will answer more questions about where UNLV stands. A victory, or even a close loss, will show the Rebels should at least compete to finish in the top half of the conference.
Getting routed would raise questions about where the season is headed, similar to the fallout from UNLV’s 97-72 loss to Bucknell on Christmas Day in Honolulu.
“We stumbled in Hawaii, but we got back up,” Menzies said. “That’s the story with a young team.”
The Rebels will have to contend with New Mexico’s zone defense, a strategy other teams have employed against UNLV to try to force outside shots. UNLV has made 29.1 percent of their 3-pointers, which through Sunday’s play ranked No. 329 among the nation’s 353 Division I teams.
New Mexico switched to a zone Dec. 19, and the Lobos are showing greater comfort with that defense, using it to give UNR all sorts of fits.
The zone adds to the Rebels’ challenges of trying to win in such an intimidating place.
“I’m looking forward to it,” UNLV guard Noah Robotham said. “The Pit’s probably one of the best atmospheres not only in the conference, but in the country. My mom’s from New Mexico, so I’ve got to give 50 tickets away to that game, so that one’s kind of been circled on my calendar.
“I don’t think we’ve played in that environment yet that’s been that loud. Hawaii was OK. Illinois was OK. But New Mexico after beating Reno by 20-some points, they’re definitely going to be packed in there, so I’m excited.”