San Diego State standout Jamaal Franklin credited backcourt teammates Chase Tapley and Xavier Thames for playing at less than 100 percent in the last game.
An injured Franklin deserved much of the praise the last time UNLV was in town.
Franklin and the 15th-ranked Aztecs are riding a 10-game home winning streak but may face another tough test Wednesday night when the Runnin' Rebels open a rough two-game road stretch.
Considering UNLV was ranked as recently as last week, San Diego State (14-2, 2-0 Mountain West) could be in for a third straight close call to begin conference play. The Aztecs blew a 10-point lead in the second half before winning 65-62 at Fresno State last Wednesday, then needed overtime at home to defeat Colorado State 79-72 on Saturday.
Franklin led the Aztecs with five 3-pointers and 23 points, but Tapley was the star in the extra period, scoring 12 of his 19 points just hours after receiving an IV due to flu-like symptoms. Thames, playing with a stiff back after missing the MWC opener, hit three 3s and finished with 14 points.
"It shows you how everybody cares for one another and everybody just wants to win, for you to risk your body and your health just to go out and play for your teammates," said Franklin, the conference co-player of the week after totaling 43 points and 25 rebounds in the first two league games.
Franklin was the one who put his body at risk when these teams last met in San Diego, twisting his ankle in the closing minutes but hitting the winning layup with 0.3 seconds left in a 69-67 victory last Jan. 14. He finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds.
Close games between these teams have become commonplace. Including UNLV's 65-63 home victory Feb. 11 that ended the Aztecs' six-game win streak in this series, three straight meetings have been decided by two points and the last five by a total of 18.
That's even more reason for the Runnin' Rebels (14-3, 1-1) to focus on their foul shooting. After setting season lows with four free throws and five attempts in last Wednesday's 65-60 loss at then-No. 25 New Mexico, UNLV missed 13 of 31 from the line in Saturday's 76-71 overtime win over Air Force.
Anthony Bennett (22 points, 16 rebounds) and Mike Moser (14 and 11 boards) were a combined 4 of 15 from the stripe.
"I'm very confident we'll throw it into those guys, and they'll get fouled and they'll make (the free throws) the next time around," coach Dave Rice said on his TV show.
Bennett, the nation's leading freshman scorer with 19.6 points per game, has scored at least 22 in all three UNLV wins since Christmas and averaged 13.5 in two losses. Moser, the team's top scorer last season, started and played 40 minutes Saturday after playing a combined 26 off the bench in his first two games after dislocating his elbow.
Strong play from Bennett and Moser could be critical on this road trip, which ends Saturday against a Colorado State team which entered this week having won 22 straight home games.
"Both those teams are undefeated at home, obviously 100 percent of our focus on San Diego State then we'll worry about Colorado State after that," Rice said.
Limiting Anthony Marshall's effectiveness has to be a concern for the Aztecs. Marshall, who has 21 assists in two conference games, totaled 31 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists against San Diego State last season.
These teams have split 22 meetings in San Diego.