UNLV will attempt to do something that has never happened in Mountain West tournament history — win four games in four days.
Something that has never really come close.
But the No. 11 seed Rebels (11-20) can’t worry about the big-picture problem; instead, they must focus on the immediate and hope to advance.
The immediate is playing a first-round game against sixth-seeded San Diego State (17-13) at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Aztecs are favored by 8½ points in a game that will be streamed online at UNLVRebels.com. The winner plays No. 3 Boise State (19-10) at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
“In the back of everyone’s mind, no one thinks we’re going to win,” UNLV guard Jovan Mooring said. “I think that makes us play harder.”
Only two schools in Mountain West tournament history that tried to win four times in four days even reached the semifinals. Sixth-seeded Boise State lost 70-67 to New Mexico in the 2014 semifinal, and No. 6 Colorado State fell to Fresno State 64-56 in 2016.
“It’s so difficult because it’s not something you prepare for,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “You never practice to play four games in four days. You can’t. It takes extreme depth and a mature approach to do what it takes day after day to be ready to win a tournament game.”
Even more troubling for UNLV, the lowest seed to advance to the championship game was No. 7 Wyoming in 2006, which lost 69-64 in overtime to San Diego State. The lowest seed to win the tournament was No. 6 Colorado State, which defeated UNLV 62-61 in 2003.
“Considering the circumstances of the season, I think (the players are) acutely aware of where their position is in this deal, not just in the seeding, but how they’re perceived,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said. “If I’ve got to motivate them to play in a one-and-done situation, we’ve already lost the game. If I’ve got to coach effort right now, we’re in trouble. I think they’re going to bring it and play hard. I’m just hoping we play smart and we play tough.”
UNLV apparently will go into the tournament short-handed, with forward Tyrell Green doubtful because of a hyperextended knee. He didn’t practice Tuesday.
Green averages 11.7 points and 5.5 rebounds, and with him expected to be out, Christian Jones will move to power forward and Cheickna Dembele will start at center.
With or without Green, the Rebels head into a meeting with a San Diego State team that won both regular-season games by 13 points. But the Rebels had moments in both games in which they were competitive with the Aztecs.
“I think it’s tough to beat a college team three times in a row,” Jones said. “Every game, we learn something different, and after these two games that we lost to them, I think we come in here with a good sense of how to play them.”
Should UNLV get past San Diego State, the challenge becomes three games in three days.
“We’re the last seed,” UNLV guard Uche Ofoegbu said. “No one expects us to win against San Diego State. Everybody expects our season to be over after this game. We’re bringing a chip on our shoulder into practice and in games.”
Contact Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.
No. 11 UNLV vs. No. 6 San Diego State
When: 4 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Thomas & Mack Center
TV/Radio: UNLVRebels.com (online stream); KWWN (1100 AM, 100.9 FM)
Line: San Diego State -8½; total 129
Wednesday’s other games: No. 8 Utah State vs. No. 9 San Jose State, 11 a.m.; No. 7 Wyoming vs. No. 10 Air Force, 1:30 p.m.
San Diego State vs. UNLV
Coach: Marvin Menzies (11-20, first season)
Player Pos. Ht. Ppg.
Jovan Mooring G 6-2 12.4
Kris Clyburn G 6-6 7.3
Uche Ofoegbu G 6-4 7.2
Christian Jones F 6-7 10.4
Cheickna Dembele F 6-11 4.0
San Diego State (17-13)
Coach: Steve Fisher (384-208, 18th season)
Player Pos. Ht. Ppg.
Trey Kell G 6-4 13.2
Dakarai Allen G 6-5 8.6
Jeremy Hemsley G 6-3 13.2
Zylan Cheatham F 6-9 9.3
Malik Pope F 6-10 10.0
WHAT TO WATCH
1. UNLV forward Tyrell Green is doubtful because of a hyperextended knee. He averages 11.7 points and 5.5 rebounds, and his expected absence puts great stress on a frontcourt that would have faced a great challenge even with Green.
2. San Diego State has won the past 10 meetings, so the Aztecs might not take UNLV as seriously as in the past. If so, that could provide the Rebels with an opening to make this a competitive game.
3. UNLV is almost sure to hit a five- or six-minute stretch during which shots don’t go in. The Rebels can’t afford one such spell in this game, but it’s been a seasonlong pattern.