unlv vs Fresno state

Preview: UNLV vs Fresno State


Runnin’ Rebels (3-6) | Fresno State Bulldogs (2-4)


UNLV will officially enter conference play Wednesday night when they face off against Fresno State.

The Runnin’ Rebels will play their first Mountain West opponent on the road at three games below .500, which could be a tough task due to the unusual scheduling. This happens to be the earliest start to conference play for the Runnin’ Rebels in the program’s storied history. They actually won’t play their next conference game until New Years Day. After Wednesday night’s contest, UNLV‘s next four games will be against non-conference opponents.

The Runnin’ Rebels are coming off another tough overtime loss on the road to Cincinnati, 72-65. It was their third overtime loss on the season, making them now 0-3 in games entering overtime. It was another close loss which saw the Runnin’ Rebels being one or two plays away from pulling off the win in crunch time, which seems to be the story of their season so far. It was especially tough to see them lose this game, despite leading by nine at the half.

Otzelberger stated earlier in the season after their loss to SMU that he was tired of the moral victories for the team. They show that they can compete against the better teams from stronger conferences, but make critical mistakes and fall short when it matters most in the closing moments of games. He vowed that the team would improve and start winning those close games. However, we will have to wait to see when that will happen. Perhaps it can be in conference play; we might find out Wednesday night.

Fresno State also enters this game below .500 at 2-4, with their two wins being at home. This is also their conference opener. The Bulldogs are currently in a two-game losing streak, with some close losses against Saint Mary’s and Cal State Northridge.

They are coached by Justin Hutson, who is now in his second season as head coach. In his first season, the Bulldogs had a pretty successful campaign with a winning record of 23-9 but failed to reach the NCAA tournament after losing to Utah State in the conference tournament semi-finals. Fresno State is led by freshman guard Jarred Hyder, who is averaging 15.6 points per game so far in this young season. His career-high came in their victory over Winthrop when he scored 26 points on 8-12 from the field and 5-7 from the three.

Despite being conference opponents, these two schools only played against each other once last season. That game saw Fresno State get the dominating victory on the road over the Rebels, 83-65. Braxton Huggins put up 31 points in that game to lead the Bulldogs, who finished the season third in the Mountain West standings.

Entering conference play, team captain and junior guard Amauri Hardy still leads UNLV in scoring, averaging 17.7 PPG. His season-high was his 27 points in the close overtime loss to Kansas State. The team’s other team captain, senior guard Elijah Mitrou-Long, who is behind him with 12.9 PPG, is coming off a monster game against Cincinnati. He put up a game-high 29 pts, including the game-tying three-pointer to send the game into overtime.

As they enter conference play, the Runnin’ Rebels will need to determine who will be their go-to guy in the clutch moments down the stretch. At times, that seems to be one of the problems for them and contributes to their struggles in losing close games. Despite Hardy being the team’s leading scorer, I believe the ball should be in the hands of Mitrou-Long when the game is on the line and they need a bucket.

Mitrou-Long has proven several times that he can get a tough bucket in the closing moments of games, whether it is a layup through contact or a deep three with a hand in his face. He also has the experience of playing in a tougher power five conference from his time playing with the Texas Longhorns.

We all know how rigorous it can be in the beast known as conference play, with tough and competitive games occurring usually twice a week. Most of those games will come down to the last possession, and in those moments, you need to know who will be the closer for the team. As of right now, I say that guy is Mitrou-Long.

The Runnin’ Rebels will travel to the Save Mart Center to take on Fresno State Wednesday at 7 pm. The game will be televised on AT&T SportsNet and can be heard on the radio on ESPN Radio 1100.


Isaiah Torres

Twitter: @Isaiah_Torres24


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