UNLV couldn’t have opened Tuesday’s Mountain West game much colder, missing nine of its first 10 shots.
New Mexico had its chance to take control over the Rebels, but couldn’t do it.
Then UNLV made the Lobos pay, getting a career-high 26 points from walk-on forward Nick Blair on its way to an 74-58 victory at the Thomas & Mack Center.
It was the second time in two weeks the Rebels (11-7, 5-1 MW) beat the Lobos (9-10, 3-4), giving UNLV its first sweep in this series in eight years. They won 80-69 at New Mexico on Jan. 8.
“I feel relieved that we were fortunate enough to get a sweep on those guys because I do think they have a lot of talent,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said. “But everybody says we haven’t played the toughest teams yet, so there will always been an asterisk next to things, so we’ve got to make sure that we try to remove the asterisk a little bit at a time. I think we chipped that a little bit tonight, but we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
The Lobos had every chance to take a strong early lead as the Rebels struggled to find their offense. But New Mexico never could quite pull away, leading only 9-3.
Both teams were tied at 18 when the Rebels went on an 11-point run to take the lead for good. Their hold on that advantage was seldom in doubt after that spurt. UNLV led 39-27 at halftime.
“We don’t let some missed shots mess up what we do,” Blair said. “We pride ourselves on our defense, so I think we did a good job of moving on to the next possession.”
Blair made 9 of 14 shots, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range, to lead four Rebels into double figures. Kris Clyburn added 14 points, Noah Robotham scored 11 and Amauri Hardy had 10.
Vance Jackson led the Lobos with 16 points, but Anthony Mathis — who averaged 15.9 points entering the game — was held to eight points and just six shots by Robotham.
“They used him as a screener, and they got some buckets out of it,” Menzies said. “Mathis is normally not a screener. If you’ve got to pick your poison, you want to give up a tough 2 before you give him those 3s. He’s so phenomenal, he squeaks away for a second, he’s going to knock them down.
“You can’t let him shoot it. He’s too good.”
Most of the game was played with two officials. Referee Dave Hall suffered a broken finger on his left hand when he was accidentally kicked by UNLV forward Joel Ntambwe with 9:31 left in the first half.
UNLV next plays at San Diego State (10-8, 2-3) on Saturday.