After a successful two-game road trip, the Rebels return to the Thomas & Mack Center to face a struggling Air Force team that has dropped 21 straight conference games.
Theoretically, it should be the easiest game on the conference slate.
The Falcons, however, play a brand of basketball that has frustrated UNLV in the past.
They grind out every possession and play tough defense, which tends to keep games low scoring and fairly close.
The Rebels hope to handle the methodical style and win their third straight game after back-to-back road wins in a pair of places they lost last season.
The wins at Colorado State and Texas Christian were vital after UNLV dropped a home game to Utah the last time it played at the Thomas & Mack Center on Jan. 16.
Chace Stanback continued to emerge in the games as a viable second scoring option behind Tre’Von Willis, the league’s leading scorer in conference games.
Stanback is fifth in the MWC in both scoring and rebounding in conference games. Willis is averaging 24.2 points in conference games, more than 8 points ahead of BYU’s Jimmer Fredette (16.0).
Oscar Bellfield is leading the league in assists in conference games at 6.3 per contest.
UNLV needs to win tonight and next Wednesday at Wyoming to put pressure on BYU before the teams meet at the Thomas & Mack Center on Feb. 6.
The Rebels have already lost two Mountain West games, while the Cougars are still unbeaten.
BYU does have a difficult game at New Mexico tomorrow, a place UNLV already won this season.
The Rebels, however, gave that game back with the home loss to Utah.
The crowd is nowhere near the size of the one that was in the building for the Utah game, but they seem to have really taken the “Black Out” theme to heart.
Nearly everyone in the arena is wearing black, except for the small group of Air Force fans behind the Falcons bench.
It really does make for a pretty intimidating atmosphere.
Brice Massamba will start at center for the second straight game.
He had lost his starting spot to Matt Shaw for an extended stretch of games, but he seems to have won back the job.
The two rotate, along with Darris Santee, each game based on effectiveness so the starting spot doesn’t mean too much.
Still, it’s a nice reward for the sophomore, who continues to work hard to develop his game.
The rest of the starting lineup remains mostly as it has been, with Tre’Von Willis and Chace Stanback joined by Oscar Bellfield and Derrick Jasper.