Rebels battle six-loss streak at Air Force

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Not since 2002 has UNLV won a basketball game at Air Force’s tiny Clune Arena.

Marcus Banks was the Rebels’ star and Charlie Spoonhour was their coach the last time they won in the 5,858-seat bandbox, 66-54 on Jan. 7, 2002.

Since then, Clune Arena has been a house of horrors for UNLV. It has lost six straight games here, four under coach Lon Kruger.

But that could change today. The programs are headed in opposite directions, and the Rebels (16-4, 4-2) are in a four-way logjam atop the Mountain West Conference with San Diego State, Utah and New Mexico.

“In three of the four years we’ve been up there, they were the favored team and they were very good,” Kruger said. “They had a little bit of a drop-off last year, but the style is still different and Clune is different.

“Having a week to prepare was good. Not only did it give us a chance to get familiar with what they do, it gave our banged-up guys a chance to heal.”

The Falcons (9-10) have the MWC basement to themselves at 0-6. They have lost seven in a row overall and are last in the league in virtually every statistical category, from scoring (50.3 points per game) to attendance (2,669 per game).

“It’s a challenge right now,” second-year coach Jeff Reynolds said. “We’re not shooting the ball very well, and some of the kids are pressing a little. Our confidence is suffering.

“We’ve had our chances to get some wins. We just haven’t been able to get a break.”

The Falcons are shooting 38 percent from the field, 30 percent on 3-point attempts, so Reynolds has to hope his team snaps out of it today or UNLV has an off day.

“It’s not just Wink (Adams),” Reynolds said of defending the Rebels. “They’ve got a lot of ways to beat you offensively. And defensively they’re very sound. Lon will have them well-prepared, so it’s definitely a difficult assignment.”

Especially with such a young team. While Air Force seniors Andrew Henke, Anwar Johnson and Matt Holland have played well, the Falcons’ subs include three freshmen. That’s when things often go haywire for the Falcons.

“We’re talking three true freshmen who were playing high school ball a year ago at this time,” Reynolds said of Taylor Stewart, Brandon Provost and Shawn Hempsey.

Kruger said UNLV won’t do anything special to speed the tempo against the Falcons, but he’s hoping for a quick start. The Rebels trailed by double digits in the first half against Brigham Young and Utah last week before rallying to win.

“We’ve dug a hole for ourselves, no question,” Kruger said. “You always want to get off to a good start. But I like our pace offensively. We’re shooting a higher percentage and taking better shots.”

If the Falcons lose today, it will be their sixth home loss of the season, matching their total losses at Clune from 2003 to 2008 when they went 68-6.

“We knew it would be a struggle,” Reynolds said. “The expectations here are a lot more than they used to be, which I think is a good thing. But at the same time, we have to be realistic.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

UNLV AT AIR FORCE

RECORD: UNLV 16-4, 4-2 MWC

COACH: Lon Kruger (107-46, fifth season; 425-279 overall, 23rd season)

PROBABLE STARTERS:

Player Pos. Ht. Ppg.

Joe Darger F 6-7 9.2

Darris Santee F 6-8 7.2

Rene Rougeau G 6-6 11.1

Wink Adams G 6-0 13.8

Tre’Von Willis G 6-4 11.7

RECORD: AIR FORCE 9-10, 0-6 MWC

COACH: Jeff Reynolds (25-24, second season)

PROBABLE STARTERS:

Player Pos. Ht. Ppg.

Andrew Henke F 6-6 11.3

Matt Holland F 6-6 11.4

Grant Parker C 6-7 6.5

Evan Washington G 6-4 7.8

Anwar Johnson G 6-5 13.4

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