unlv vs boise state
Photo Credit: Terrance Quaites – Franchise Sports Media

Game Preview: UNLV vs Boise State


Runnin’ Rebels (17-14, 12-6)  |  Boise State (19-11, 11-7)


There are few teams in the country right now that are as hot as UNLV. The Rebels have won 5 straight games, 6 of their last 7, and have won 12 conference games for the first time in 12 years.


In that timeframe, UNLV went on the road to Montezuma Mesa in San Diego and handed the SDSU Aztecs their only defeat of the season. It could be argued that since stumbling at home to Pacific, the Rebels rattling off a 13-6 record since then is one of the better coaching jobs in all of college basketball.

That’s precisely what TJ Otzelberger did in his inaugural season at UNLV. The Rebels limped out to a 4-8 start in their out-of-conference portion of the schedule, and many thought this was going to be a brutal rebuilding season. Instead, Otzelberger utilized some tough love on his team by benching starters, Amauri Hardy and Donnie Tillman. He replaced them in the starting lineup with former walk-ons, Marvin Coleman and Nick Blair. Then he proceeded to tell the rest of the team (Including MWC First Team Selection Bryce Hamilton) that they could all buy-in or watch from the bench while players who were on board with his ideology earned PT in their stead.


Turns out his message hit home. The Rebels won 7 out of their next 8, and it looked like they had finally hit their stride.


Then the real meat of their MWC slate loomed ominously. UNLV played at UNR, home to SDSU, at Colorado State, and at Utah State. The Rebs lost all four games, and only the loss to the Aztecs was even competitive. Further adjustments were in order. Otzelberger wasn’t done concocting ways for his team to be competitive and to get back on track. It was small-ball that would rally the Rebels and salvage their season.

Enter Elijah Mitrou-Long. The grad transfer from Texas by way of Mount Saint Mary’s was coming off an injury suffered on his non-shooting hand, where he missed 12 games. Most would think that coming off of that kind of layoff, that a player would need time to reacclimate himself. Mitrou-Long needed no such thing. Coach Otzelberger put him in his starting lineup, and the savvy, hardnosed guard responded by averaging 17 points per game during the Rebels’ late-season run and became the catalyst and third scorer the team desperately needed.


All this led to UNLV being tied for 2nd place in the MWC and earning a 1st round bye in the conference tournament. Finishing so strongly put them into the 4 spot, where they will battle it out for a third time with the 5th seeded Boise State Broncos.


In the first matchup between the schools, UNLV traveled to Idaho, and it was a rough night for them shooting the ball. The Rebels shot a wayward 37% from the floor, and they shot an even worse 24% on their 3 point tries. On the defensive end, they were almost as porous.

Derrick Alston is Boise’s best all-around player, and he shredded UNLV’s defense on his way to 26 points and ten rebounds. The slashing wing did whatever he wanted, and that opened up great looks for the all-time 3 point shooting king in MWC history, Justinian Jessup. The renowned sniper hit 5/6 of his attempts from downtown, totaling 18 points for the game. In the end, Boise State came away victorious, 73-66.

The following contest between the programs was the antithesis of the previous game. UNLV looked like absolute world beaters for around 32 minutes. They drubbed Boise State to the point where they enjoyed a 27 point lead in the 2nd half. The Rebels played at a torrid pace offensively. The guard trio of Hardy (24 points), Hamilton (22 points), and Mitrou-Long (16 points) quite literally, ran the hapless Broncos defenders right out of the Thomas and Mack Center.

On the other side of the court, UNLV made it a point to completely nullify Derrick Alston, who struggled mightily under the ferocious defensive scrutiny. Alston ended up going 3 for ten overall, and his 11 point outing might have been the hardest double-figure scoring game of his life. Some human nature seeped in with UNLV up big, however. The Rebels let their foot off the gas, and Boise State stormed back in the final minutes (Even getting the game to single digits), to make the score a respectable, 76-66 victory for UNLV.


Fast forward to their quarterfinal matchup in the MWC Tournament, and you get teams that are trending in different directions.


UNLV is being touted nationally as a school that could win the tournament and be a bid stealer come Selection Sunday. On the other hand, Boise State has gone 3-3 in their final six games and lost some of its momentum heading into postseason play. The 4 and 5 matchup is usually a close one, and I suspect this game will be a war.

Despite UNLV having the homecourt advantage, they will most likely be playing without, Elijah Mitrou-Long. He suffered a knee bruise in the last minutes of the Rebels’ blowout win at San Jose State. The injury was deemed “severe” in the reports, and that will be a significant hit to the UNLV offense. Inconsistent Utah transfer Donnie Tillman will be available, however, and the Rebels could stand to see him return to his form where he won Pac-12 6th Man of the Year.

As it is, someone in a scarlet and gray trimmed uniform will have to step up and help Bryce Hamilton, and Amauri Hardy shoulder the scoring burden. Whether that’s Tillman, Diong, Antonio, Blair, or Marvin Coleman, UNLV must get contributions from everyone. The Rebels’ defense has been stifling and consistent during this recent run, and they will once again need to defend both Alston and Jessup staunchly. If UNLV can do that, they will be able to advance where they will play the winner of SDSU and the Air Force Academy.


Tip time is 2:00 pm PST. If you can’t make it out to the T&M, you can tune into CBS Sports Network for coverage.


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-Jeff Waddilove – Franchise Sports Media


Las Vegas! If you want another great place to watch the game, head to Al’s Garage in Summerlin. There are multiple televisions to watch all the games. Al’s has “Happy Hour” starting at 9 AM and ending at 9 PM. Al’s Garage is located at 11760 W. Charleston Boulevard, Las Vegas, Nevada 89135. Tell them, “The Franchise sent you!!”


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