UNLV-New Mexico Preview

The Associated Press

UNLV tied for the Mountain West Conference lead last weekend after rebounding from a road loss.

If the 11th-ranked Runnin' Rebels don't bounce back from another defeat outside Las Vegas, they might not get a chance to return to the top of the league standings.

UNLV tries to avoid losing for the third time in four games Saturday when conference-leading New Mexico goes for a seventh consecutive victory since these teams last met.

After their five-game winning streak ended with a 68-66 loss at Wyoming on Feb. 4, the Runnin' Rebels (22-5, 6-3) moved into a three-way tie for first place with New Mexico and No. 13 San Diego State with a 65-63 victory over the Aztecs last Saturday.

UNLV, though, arrives in Albuquerque in a second-place tie with San Diego State after losing 102-97 in overtime at TCU on Tuesday.

The Runnin' Rebels couldn't hold on to an 18-point second-half lead and fell to 5-5 away from home.

"One of the things we're not very good at right now is keeping our foot on the pedal on both ends of the floor," said coach Dave Rice, whose team surrendered its most points since a 120-117 double-overtime victory over New Mexico on March 7, 2002.

"For us to be a very good team, for us to advance to being a very good team we have to have almost that killer instinct where if we're up six, get up eight - if we're up 18, try to get up 22, 24."

UNLV, though, put the Lobos (21-4, 7-2) away Jan. 21, extending its lead to 20 after trailing by five midway through the first half of an 80-63 home win.

However, New Mexico is a much different team than the one that dropped its third straight in this series.

Since that defeat, the Lobos have won their six games by an average of 20.8 points, including a 77-67 victory at San Diego State on Wednesday.

"I think this team has been under appreciated," coach Steve Alford told the school's official website. "I think we are playing our best basketball at the right time of the year. Our guys are playing their roles and playing as hard as they can."

That's especially true on the defensive end. New Mexico has held its opponents to 50.6 points and 34.6 percent shooting during its winning streak to take a one-game lead over UNLV and San Diego State.

"You know, all season people have been talking about San Diego State and UNLV going at it, so this is a nice win to put us solely in first," said senior forward Drew Gordon, who is averaging 12.1 points and 10.7 rebounds - second only to Rebels sophomore Mike Moser's 11.3 boards in the Mountain West. "... It was a good win for us and we basically dictate our own fate from here on out."

Guards Kendall Williams and Tony Snell led the Lobos with 15 points apiece Jan. 21, while Gordon added 14 and 12 rebounds.

Moser scored 14 points with 10 boards in that contest, while Carlos Lopez had half of the Runnin' Rebels' 28 bench points.

The Lobos have won three straight at The Pit since San Diego State ended their season-best 13-game winning streak with a 75-70 victory Jan. 18.

UNLV, which plays three of its final four games at home, has won two straight in Albuquerque after posting a 77-74 overtime victory in its last visit Feb. 23.

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