UNLV went to New Mexico in early January as underdogs two years ago and won 71-66.
The Rebels then lost 12 of their final 14 games.
They went to New Mexico as underdogs again Jan. 8 and won 80-69.
Now they will try to build on that performance playing in a Mountain West conference that is as down as ever. UNLV’s first opportunity is at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Air Force Academy, Colorado.
ESPU will televise the game between the Rebels (9-6, 3-0 MW) and Air Force (6-10, 1-3).
“You’re only as good as your last game,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said. “We’re good, but we’ve got to keep the momentum going in the right direction. It’s just the ups and downs of a season. Right now, we’re up, and we’re going to try to use that to be more demanding and hold (the players) more accountable. That’s one of the things you can do when guys have been successful on the court.”
UNLV could be without forward Mbacke Diong, who has a sprained ankle. Menzies said Diong will be a game-day decision, but also hinted that the injury could linger.
The Rebels are off to their best start in Mountain West history and the best in any conference since 20 years ago in the Western Athletic. UNLV’s last 4-0 start was in the 1991-92 season in the Big West in coach Jerry Tarkanian’s final season.
That season signaled the end to the program’s glory days, and UNLV now is trying to become a contender in a wide-open Mountain West.
The Rebels play an Air Force team that could be beginning to find its rhythm.
Air Force held San Diego State to 14 first-half points Saturday before holding off an Aztecs rally in a 62-48 victory.
“I thought our team played really well on Saturday,” Falcons coach Dave Pilipovich said. “I thought maybe for the first time all year we put everything together.”
Air Force, even with its restrictive size limitations to meet academy standards, outrebounded the Aztecs 39-33. The game at Clune Arena shows how difficult a place it can be for opponents, a venue in which the Rebels have had their own struggles.
UNLV won there 81-76 last season to snap a three-game losing streak at Clune.
Part of the problem is playing at about 7,200 feet, but the Rebels handled New Mexico’s elevation of 5,100 feet just fine.
Menzies put senior point guard Noah Robotham in the middle of UNLV’s fast-break offense against the Lobos in the second half.
That helped the Rebels regularly break New Mexico’s constant pressure, as UNLV outscored the home team by 18 points in the final 20 minutes.
“It’s hard to say going into any game if the previous game helped you or hurt you until down the road a little bit,” Menzies said. “Any time you have the opportunity to go out and improve with a young team and get them tested is obviously a good thing.”
Air Force will present its own challenges, and a victory would be crucial for the Rebels.
“We’re going to keep on grinding and grinding and get as many wins as we can,” UNLV forward Joel Ntambwe said.