Mountain West rankings: UNLV Rebels ‘telling the league we’re here’

UNLV forward Cheikh Mbacke Diong blocks a shot by Boise State guard RJ Williams but is called for a foul during an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, in Boise, Idaho. (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman via AP)

UNLV forward Cheikh Mbacke Diong blocks a shot by Boise State guard RJ Williams but is called for a foul during an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, in Boise, Idaho. (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman via AP)

The UNLV Rebels are red hot.

“Our guys are playing for each other,” first-year Rebel coach T.J. Otzelberger said after a 99-78 win over New Mexico on Saturday. “They’re playing the way we need to play to be successful.”

The Rebels, which take on the Nevada Wolf Pack on Wednesday (8 p.m.) at Lawlor Events Center, have definitely been successful lately. UNLV has won seven of its last eight games to climb to No. 2 in this week’s Nevada Appeal Mountain West men’s basketball rankings.

UNLV, which also ran over San Jose State 98-87 last Wednesday, is now 11-9 overall and in second place in the Mountain West at 6-1. The Rebels began the year 4-8.

“It’s just telling the league we’re here,” UNLV sophomore point guard Marvin Coleman said after beating New Mexico in Las Vegas.

Coleman, a Foothill High graduate, had 17 points against San Jose State and turned in UNLV’s first triple double in two decades (Mark Dickel in 1999) with 11 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists against New Mexico.

Coleman now has 19 assists combined in his last two games after getting 19 over his first 14 games.

“We don’t want to get too high with this one,” said Coleman of the victory over New Mexico. “We still have a tough stretch coming up. We have to go up north and play Nevada and we have San Diego State (this Sunday in Las Vegas) after that. We still have to work.”

The Rebels outscored New Mexico 58-28 in the paint and combined to out-rebound San Jose State and New Mexico 92-54. UNLV also shot a combined 69-of-131 (52 percent) in the two games.

Bryce Hamilton came off the bench to score 35 points on 14-of-19 shooting against New Mexico and also had 16 against San Jose State.

“It was hard to have him out of the game because he is so impactful,” Otzelberger said.

No. 1 San Diego State, now 19-0, 8-0, buried both Fresno State (64-55) and Nevada (68-55) with defense last week. Malachi Flynn had 36 points in the two games combined while Yanni Wetzell had 17 points and 16 rebounds against Nevada and 17 points against Fresno State.

No. 3 Utah State (14-6, 3-4) continued to struggle, losing to Boise State 88-83 in overtime on the road. The Aggies have now lost four of their last five games. Utah State’s only victory since Dec. 28 is an 80-70 decision over Nevada on Jan. 11.

No. 5 Boise State rallied from a 66-48 deficit with just four minutes to play to force overtime against Utah State. The Broncos went on a 14-0 run over a stretch of just 2:12 to cut Utah State’s lead to just 66-62 with 1:25 to go. RayJ Dennis scored eight points in the run, R.J. Williams had four and Max Rice had a steal and a dunk.

Dennis then scored 11 points in just 40 seconds on two 3-pointers, three free throws and a dunk to cut Utah State’s lead to just 75-73 with four seconds to go. Justinian Jessup then stole Utah State’s inbounds pass and converted a layup to send the game into overtime, tied 75-75.

The Broncos dominated the overtime as Jessup scored six points, Derrick Alston had four and Marcus Dickinson had three.

“It was remarkable,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “It was one of the most remarkable comebacks I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more perfect comeback and improbable.”

Dennis turned in one of the most explosive offensive performances in recent Mountain West history, scoring all 19 of his points in the final 3:26 of regulation. He was perfect, going 5-of-5 from the floor and the free throw line and 4-of-4 on threes.

“I just got lost in the game,” said Dennis, who is averaging just 4.0 points a game even after his performance against Utah State. “Now my confidence is through the roof.”

Dennis, a 6-foot-2 freshman, has had eight games this year without scoring a single point. He had just seven 3-pointers all season before draining four against Utah State.

“It was the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of,” Jessup said. “We felt beat.”

Utah State’s Sam Merrill scored 30 points against Boise State while Justin Bean had 18 points and 10 rebounds. The Aggies, though, were 1-of-7 from the floor (0-for-4 on threes) in the overtime.

“For most of the game they looked like the team that was picked to win this league,” Rice said.

Nevada remained at No. 4 after a narrow 68-67 victory at home against Wyoming and a 68-55 loss on the road at San Diego State. Jalen Harris had 20 points against Wyoming, including the game-winning layup with nine seconds to play, and 19 against San Diego State.

Lindsey Drew was a combined 3-of-20 in the two games from the floor. The Wolf Pack was just 5-of-34 from the floor in the second half against San Diego State.

New Mexico (15-5, 4-3) dropped four spots to No. 6 after losses to Colorado State (105-72) and UNLV (99-78) last week. The Lobos, which play Nevada at Lawlor Events Center on Saturday, are playing without starters Carlton Bragg and J.J. Caldwell, who have been suspended because of legal issues.

No. 7 Colorado State (13-7, 4-3) whipped both New Mexico (105-72) and Air Force (78-65) last week and has now won four games in a row and six of its last seven. Nico Carvacho had 22 points and 23 rebounds combined in the two games. Kendle Moore had 30 points combined in the two games. Six Rams scored in double figures against New Mexico.

No. 8 Air Force (9-10, 3-4) split a pair of games last week, beating Boise State, 85-78, and losing to Colorado State. The Falcons drew just 4,233 fans for the two home games combined.

Lavelle Scottie scored 36 points and A.J. Walker had 29 combined in the two games for Air Force.

No. 9 San Jose State (6-13, 2-5) lost to UNLV 98-87 in its only game last week. Seneca Knight scored more than a third (30) of the Spartans’ points. Knight was 12-of-15 from the free throw line and also had four threes.

No. 10 Fresno State (6-12, 2-5) lost to San Diego State (64-55) at home and beat No. 11 Wyoming (65-50) on the road. Orlando Robinson continued to be a bright spot for the Bulldogs, scoring 37 points combined in the two games. New Williams had 31 points in the two games on six threes.

Wyoming (fell to 5-15, 0-8) with its losses to Nevada (68-67) and Fresno State (65-50). Hunter Maldonado had 17 points against Nevada but just seven against Fresno. Hunter Thompson had 16 against Nevada and just five against Fresno.

Wyoming has now lost six games in a row and 12 of its last 14. The Cowboys have scored 70 or more points in just one of 20 games this year (an 86-77 loss to Air Force on Dec. 4).

The Nevada Appeal Mountain West men’s basketball rankings for the week of Jan. 20-26:

1. SAN DIEGO STATE (19-0, 8-0). This week: vs. Wyoming (Tuesday); at UNLV (Sunday).

2. UNLV (11-9, 6-1). This week: at Nevada (Wednesday); vs. San Diego State (Sunday).

3. UTAH STATE (14-6, 3-4). This week: vs. Air Force (Tuesday); vs. Colorado State (Saturday).

4. NEVADA (11-8, 4-3). This week: vs. UNLV (Wednesday); vs. New Mexico (Saturday).

5. BOISE STATE (12-8, 4-4). This week: at Fresno State (Saturday).

6. NEW MEXICO (15-5, 4-3). This week: vs. San Jose State (Tuesday); at Nevada (Saturday).

7. COLORADO STATE (13-7, 4-3). This week: vs. Fresno State (Wednesday); at Utah State (Saturday).

8. AIR FORCE (9-10, 3-4). This week: at Utah State (Tuesday); at San Jose State (Saturday).

9. SAN JOSE STATE (6-13, 2-5). This week: at New Mexico (Tuesday); vs. Air Force (Saturday).

10. FRESNO STATE (6-12, 2-5). This week: at Colorado State (Wednesday); vs. Boise State (Saturday).

11. WYOMING (5-15, 0-8). This week: at San Diego State (Tuesday).


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