Anthony Bennett has made quite an impression for UNLV.
The highest-scoring player in the Mountain West Conference, the freshman heads into his first league game for the No. 24 Runnin' Rebels as they visit No. 25 New Mexico on Wednesday night.
Bennett is averaging 19.9 points to lead all freshmen nationally and is second in the conference in field-goal percentage at 56.1. His current 15-game streak of reaching double figures in points is the longest in the MWC.
"Watching things on tape over the last seven or eight days, this is the best team that we've played in UNLV, I think they're the best team we've played to date and I think Anthony Bennett is the best player that we've had to go against to date," New Mexico coach Steve Alford said.
Bennett had a season-high 28 points along with 10 rebounds as UNLV cruised past Cal State Bakersfield 84-63 on Saturday. He had 21 points by halftime.
"The thing that makes him special and takes him over the top is his team play, his basketball IQ, and just how much he enjoys playing and how his teammates react to that," coach Dave Rice said.
Bennett will get his first taste of a rivalry that featured three meetings last season. The teams traded blowout home victories before New Mexico (13-2) won 72-67 in Las Vegas in the conference tournament semifinals en route to winning the tourney title.
The Lobos also finished tied for the regular-season crown with San Diego State a season ago, with UNLV (13-2) one game back in third.
"Our guys have done a tremendous job through a non-conference schedule, the toughest non-conference schedule UNM has ever said," Alford said. "To be sitting 13-2, we're obviously very pleased and eager to start the defense of our championship."
Mike Moser, who led the Rebels with a 14.0 scoring average last season, has missed the last two games with an elbow injury that also sidelined him earlier this season. Moser, averaging 9.9 points in 2012-13, has been practicing although his status for Wednesday is unclear.
"He just is not quite what we know what Mike Moser is, (he) was first team all-conference last year, preseason All-American, he's a huge part of what we do," Rice said. "I just didn't think it was fair to him to play him until he was closer to being himself."
UNLV is limiting opponents to 37.6 percent shooting to lead the conference while New Mexico owns the second-worst shooting percentage in the MWC at 41.3.
The Lobos have overcome those woes by averaging league bests of 26.3 free throws per game and 75.1 percent shooting at the line.
"We've got to make sure we do the best job we can, we've got to guard them without fouling," Rice said.
"They've done a fantastic job of getting to the free-throw line, and when they get to the free throw line, they make their free throws."
Alford's three-guard lineup of Kendall Williams, Hugh Greenwood and Tony Snell combined for 22 points and shot 7 of 21 in the Lobos' last contest, a 60-46 loss at Saint Louis on Dec. 31.
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