Feb. 22, 2011
Lobo Men's Basketball -- In The Pit
Wednesday: 7:15 p.m. UNLV at Lobos
On The Air: CBS-College (TV) 770-AM KKOB/ Lobo Radio Network
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By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer / GoLobos.com
It's not really an opponent or a game that requires anything to be on the line in order to pull deep passion out of The Pit.
It's UNLV. It's the Runnin' Rebels, a team that has summoned up The Pit's dark side going back to Jerry "Tark The Shark" Tarkanian and Stormin' Norman Ellenberger. Nothing has changed there.
The ire aimed at Rebs might not be as dark as the stuff Lobos throw at Brigham Young, but UNLV is a team that brings The Pit to a boil.
It is a game of history, baggage, good memories and bad memories featuring some of the top players to ever run an NCAA court. It is an us-vs.-them deal laced with a soft layer of respect because the Rebs have earned it.
They are blue-chip athletes that don't always play disciplined, but they usually play with relentless passion for the ball. They come at you. If you beat the Rebs, you have weathered a good punch, like taking a Joe Frazer left hook but hanging around to win on points.
The Rebs knockout punch can come from a variety of angles, but it's heart is defense. "Their defense is just crazy; so much pressure you have to deal with," said Lobo senior Dairese Gary. "They speed you up a lot."
The Rebs speed you up and try to force you into mistakes. They go for the basketball like a shark goes for a wounded fish. They attack. They swarm.
"They win games because of their defense," said Lobo coach Steve Alford. "They score out of their defense. We have to limit the amount of scores they get out of the defensive end. You can't give up those easy baskets. That's a big key."
UNLV averages 8.1 steals a game. They had 11 steal in the Rebs' 63-62 win in Vegas. UNM ended up with 20 turnovers and had four in the final 1:15 of play when the swarming Rebels really got nasty.
"They turn people over. That's what they do," said Alford. "UNLV is very good at turning people over. We got them in our building and we can't turn it over 20 times."
So, how do you handled and break this UNLV pressure?
"You take their strength, which is pressure in your face, and use it against them by being strong with the ball," said Lobo freshman Kendall Williams. "One dribble and go by them. "With all that pressure they set themselves up to dribble penetration."
That's true. But can you get by these Rebs and then finish when they have forced you to -- as Gary put it -- speed you up?
The Rebs usually make a game fun with their attacking philosophy on both ends of the court. On offense, they will drive at you. For a hurry-up team, they take their share of 3-pointers, but prefer to beat you closer to the glass.
They try to wear teams down physically and mentally with their pressure, but that' something Gary says the Lobos plan to do, too. "If you go into a possession and make them guard a long time, their pressure goes down a little bit," said Gary. "Hopefully, we can try to tire them out and get the pressure to decrease as the games goes on."
Sounds good. However, the Rebs have been playing well of late with a huge win at Colorado State that was their sixth win in eight games. That's a nice turnaround for a previously ranked UNLV squad had lost three of five before that.
However, a footnote should be stamped on UNLV's so-called skid. Their past five losses have been to Brigham Young (twice), San Diego State (twice) and Colorado State.
The Pit needs no extra motivation to growl at visiting Rebs, but this game does have some Mountain West implications. San Diego State (12-1) and Brigham Young (11-1) might determine the 2011 King of the Mountain Saturday in San Diego, but there is still some scrambling to do for that valuable No. 3 spot.
Colorado State is 8-4, UNLV is 8-5 and UNM is 5-7. The Rebs came up with a nice road win at CSU and could slip into that third spot. The Lobos need some help to move up and could help themselves by slapping down UNLV. The Lobos are on a three-game skid and have lost six of ten. The Lobos have four games left on their regular-season schedule and are looking for momentum to carry into the Mountain West tourney in Vegas.
The Lobos have been doing most things well enough to win except finishing games and that flaw has come from flawed shooting. "Making shots has been an issue with this team," said Alford. "You have to make some shots at key parts of the game."
UNM's ability to finish has been hurt by missed shots, but Alford also said confidence down the stretch is important. "It kind of snowballs," Alford said of not finishing games. "The doubt comes into your mind. It kid of gets into their head, `Can we do it?' You can't have that mindset."
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.