The 17th-ranked Runnin’ Rebels will try to win their seventh straight and match the program’s best start in 19 years Thursday night in Bakersfield, where they’ll face the Roadrunners for the first time.
UNLV (15-2) has won its 10 home games by an average of 24.5 points but has played just four road games - and five outside of Las Vegas - following Saturday’s 74-69 victory over Hawaii.
With league play starting Jan. 14 at 24th-ranked San Diego State - the defending regular season and conference tournament champion - Rice welcomes the opportunity of having his team compete in a hostile environment.
“We could have easily scheduled games at home, but it was important for us to get on the road,” he told the school’s official website.
“We feel like we’ll be battle tested, road tested (for conference).”
UNLV is trying to equal the 16-2 start by the 1992-93 team.
The Roadrunners, meanwhile, are looking to rebound from their first home loss in five games this season, 73-72 to New Mexico State on Monday.
Leading scorer Issiah Grayson missed his second free throw with two seconds left, and the Aggies capitalized by making two from the foul line with 0.9 on the clock.
“The game is over, I’ll start preparing for UNLV tonight and we’ll come out on Thursday and our guys will be ready to go again and they’ll learn a life lesson,” coach Rod Barnes told the school’s official website. “Those that want to be successful, they’ll fight back, and that’s what we’ll do.”
Junior guard Stephon Carter, who scored a team-high 16 points Monday, can’t wait for the Runnin’ Rebels to arrive.
“I was getting recruited by UNLV out of high school and they didn’t offer me a scholarship,” he said. “So for me, I’m going to take it personal and I’m going to make sure my teammates and coaches we’re all on the same ship, the same floor and go into another war and get another win.”
That could be a tall task, though, as the Runnin’ Rebels are limiting opponents to 62.8 points and 37.5 shooting during their winning streak.
“They get a lot of credit for their offense, but they’re actually a very good defensive team,” Hawaii coach Gib Arnold said.
Slowing down UNLV could also pose plenty of problems for Cal State-Bakersfield. The Runnin’ Rebels have six players averaging between 7.8 and 15.3 points.
Leading scorer Chace Stanback is averaging 21.5 and shooting 72.4 percent (21 for 29) from 3-point range over the last four games.
Junior guard Anthony Marshall has back-to-back double-doubles after grabbing a career-high 13 rebounds and scoring 14 of his 19 points in the second half Saturday.
“Chace did it in the first half (with 11 of his 13 points) and then Mike Moser (15 points, 12 boards), myself, as well as some others carried us down the stretch,” Marshall said. “We’re a ball club with a lot of veterans who have been playing for a long time now.”
UNLV could be without big man Brice Massamba after he was hit in the head against Hawaii.
Thursday’s game is at Rabobank Arena. The Roadrunners played their first five home games on campus at the Icardo Center.
“If it’s in L.A., New York, Las Vegas as long as we win I don’t care where it’s at,” Carter said.
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