From Chace Stanback and Mike Moser leading UNLV to a victory over No. 1 North Carolina in 2011 or Christian Wood and Rashad Vaughn carrying the Rebels past No. 3 Arizona in 2014, beating top-ranked opponents isn’t terribly new.
And now the Rebels, who are 15½-point underdogs, get another chance to pull off an unexpected victory when they visit No. 4 San Diego State at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Viejas Arena.
The Aztecs (26-0, 15-0 Mountain West) are not only are trying to put together an historic undefeated season, but also are fighting for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. One slip-up likely will cost San Diego State a spot on that top line.
“The pressure’s on them,” UNLV guard Marvin Coleman said. “We don’t have anything to lose.”
UNLV (14-14, 9-6) must, however, overcome its own awful recent history against the Aztecs. San Diego State has beaten the Rebels in 16 of the past 17 meetings by an average margin of 10.8 points. The results for UNLV have been even more dire at Viejas, with the past four losses there by an average of 26 points.
But there is hope for the Rebels, who lost by four points to San Diego State on Jan. 26. UNLV enters this game off victories at New Mexico and over Colorado State using a four-guard lineup that has provided a spark.
“It would be silly to say there’s not a higher magnitude (compared to other games) based on what San Diego State’s accomplished to this point and how great they’ve been,” Rebels coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “Someone can (ask), ‘Is this a signature win?’ I don’t know all that. … We know if we play our very best that we’ll put ourselves in a great position and have a chance to win.”
As for pulling that off that upset victory, the Rebels know few outside their locker room expect them to even be competitive, and they’re OK with that. Guard Amauri Hardy echoed Coleman’s statement about not having the weight of expectations.
The same was true for UNLV going into those games against North Carolina and Arizona.
Stanback scored 28 points and Moser had 16 points and 18 rebounds as UNLV beat the Tar Heels 90-80 at Orleans Arena. Then-coach Dave Rice called it “a huge win for our program.”
Another one came three years later when UNLV beat Arizona 71-67 at the Thomas & Mack Center behind Wood’s 24 points and 10 rebounds and Vaughn’s 21 points. Rice called that game “a signature win.”
Though UNLV made the NCAA Tournament in the 2011-12 season, the Rebels didn’t build on those two victories with disappointing defeats coming in both years.
So even if the Rebels shock San Diego State on Saturday, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will carry momentum into the rest of the season or into next year.
But it would be a special moment that would place UNLV back in the national spotlight even if just for a night.
“Win one of those games and you’ll be on ESPN or Scott Van Pelt,” Hardy said. “You’ve got to play a full 40 minutes with those guys. I feel like we played 34 minutes (in the first meeting), but we left out the other six. They haven’t seen a team that’s played the full 40 minutes.”
■ Who: UNLV at No. 4 San Diego State
■ When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday
■ Where: Viejas Arena, San Diego
■ TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network; KWWN (1100 AM, 100.9 FM)
■ Line: San Diego State -15½; total 135½
UNLV (14-14, 9-6 Mountain West)
Coach: T.J. Otzelberger (14-14, first season)
San Diego State (26-0, 15-0 MW)
Coach: Brian Dutcher (69-24, third season)