LAS VEGAS - There is no big cannon at stake in this in-state rivalry, but the Nevada-UNLV basketball rivalry is important to both teams.
Nevada (2-1) will be out for revenge when it visits the Thomas & Mack Center tonight (7 p.m., The Mtn./630 AM) to take on the Runnin' Rebels (3-1), who dealt the Pack their only loss at home last season.
"There is a lot of trash talking going on, and their fans will get on us," Nevada senior swingman Marcelus Kemp said. "We want to execute and make plays. They are always a tough team."
"It's going to be a competitive game," back-up center David Ellis said. "It's a lot of fun in that type of atmosphere. You always look forward to a game like this."
Certainly coaching jobs in basketball don't hinge on beating the arch-rival as they sometimes do in football, which is something Nevada coach Mark Fox pointed out.
"Certainly two state schools playing garners a lot of attention," Fox said. "For this team, it's an important game. The last few years we've made sure all the games are (equally) important.
"They (UNLV) are a good basketball team. They have two good guards (Wink Adams and Curtis Terry). They have great team speed."
After playing three games in six days, Nevada has had an entire week of practice under its belt, and that's important for a young team.
"We've gotten back to basics," Kemp said. "We should be ready for the game."
"It's good for us to get better as a team," Ellis said. "Coach gets into us everyday. That helps us."
Fox said that several players have been sick during the week which has wiped out much of the advantage of having a week's worth of practice. Fox does expect to be at full strength tonight, though the school refused to release an injury/health report.
Hopefully the players will find some answers for the pressure defense UNLV employed in last year's 58-49 loss, the only time Nevada was held to under 50 points last year.
UNLV did a tremendous job picking up the Nevada players out high, and made it difficult for the Pack to make passes and get into its half-court offense.
"They are a very good defensive team," Fox said. "They have speed and that forced us into some turnovers, and we couldn't put the ball in the basket."
UNLV coach Lon Kruger, whose team won 30 games last year and reached the coveted Sweet 16, would like nothing better than to make it two straight over Nevada. The Pack has won three of the last four meetings, and all of the games have been decided by nine points or less.
UNLV is coming off a lopsided loss to Louisville on Wednesday night. Louisville ran away with the game in the last 13-plus minutes.
"I feel like we're making progress, but we have a long way to go," Kruger said Wednesday morning prior to the Louisville game. "The biggest difference is the way the new players are progressing everyday."
Kruger said that it will take some time before everything clicks, and he admitted that defense is usually the last thing to come around.
"We're having more good possessions every game," Kruger said.
Kruger hopes his team can slow down Kemp, who has scored 20-plus in two of the first three games.
"He's very physical," Kruger said. "He's a very good scorer. He's extremely aggressive at the offensive end and a tough match-up. He does a lot of things you're looking for in a good player."
Rebounding also concerns Kruger. Unless the UNLV coach makes a line-up change, his biggest starter is 6-8 240-pound sophomore Matt Shaw, who is the second-biggest player on the team behind 6-10 junior Emmanuel Adelfe.
"They (Nevada) are very big," Kruger said. "It's going to be a very big challenge on the boards."
Actually, Nevada has been outrebounded by slight margins in two of its first three games. Barring injury, Nevada starts 7-1 JaVale McGee and 6-9 Demarshay Johnson up front. Johnson has been effective on the boards, pulling down nearly seven a game.