UNLV is peaking at the right time.
The Rebels enter their final week of the regular season on a three-game winning streak and with victories in four of their past five games. During the three-game streak, the Rebels won at New Mexico, demolished Colorado State at home and shocked No. 4 and previously undefeated San Diego State on the road Saturday.
This is a team playing with confidence, as the Rebels have served notice they could be a factor in next week’s Mountain West tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center. They close the regular season Wednesday at home against Boise State and Saturday at San Jose State.
“We’ve got to carry this energy and focus into the next game and the next game after that,” guard Amauri Hardy said. “Guys are locked in right now. We’re playing for each other. We’re having fun.”
This current hot streak by UNLV (15-14, 10-6 Mountain West) followed a stretch in which the Rebels lost four consecutive games against some of the conference’s top teams.
“We took the things we didn’t do well in Vegas and brought them to this game to make sure that we did the right things as far as communicating,” Hardy said. “This place was rocking, so it was hard to talk.”
Hardy knows how difficult it is to win at Viejas Arena, a place where the Rebels had lost four games in a row by an average of 26 points. San Diego State had won 16 of the last 17 meetings against UNLV.
“The crowd’s crazy,” said guard Elijah Mitrou-Long, a graduate transfer from Texas. “This is the best atmosphere I’ve been a part of. The fact we came in here and played a great team that’s going to do numbers in March Madness means a lot. It’s a confidence booster. It gives us hope. We’re going to cherish this moment, and we’re going to move on because we haven’t really done anything yet.”
The Aztecs are the highest-ranked opponent UNLV has beaten since topping No. 3 Arizona in December 2014. UNLV’s last road victory over a team ranked this high in the polls occurred in 1991 when the No. 1 Rebels beat No. 2 Arkansas.
“It’s a culmination of our work on a daily basis,” coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “I know that sounds cliche, but our guys work really hard. We challenge them, and their preparation and their focus for this game was tremendous.”