GAME NOTES: Two teams tied for fourth place in the Mountain West Conference standings get together in Sin City, as the UNLV Runnin' Rebels host the Boise State Broncos at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Runnin' Rebels, who are just 8-5 at home this season, have won three straight decisions and four of the last five, thanks in part to a 70-46 romp over a hapless San Jose State program three nights ago on the road. With the victory versus the Spartans, UNLV is now 5-3 in conference play, which is exactly where the Broncos stand at the moment as well.
Boise State, which is set to host league-leading and nationally-ranked San Diego State next week, has won two straight games and four of the last five thanks to a 69-58 decision versus an undermanned Air Force squad on Wednesday night at Taco Bell Arena.
This is just the eighth meeting all-time between the programs, with UNLV holding a 5-2 advantage over the Broncos.
Against an Air Force team that was missing its top scorer, the Broncos leaned on Ryan Watkins and his 16 points and game-high 13 rebounds, while Anthony Drmic matched the forward in the scoring department and had six boards of his own. Jeff Elorriaga and reserve Thomas Bropleh each tallied 13 points for the hosts as well, making up for starter Nick Duncan and Derrick Marks who combined for only eight points while dealing with foul trouble.
Watkins, one of 16 Division I players to be averaging a double-double heading into the weekend, is posting 11.4 ppg and 10.8 rpg. On the offensive glass alone, where Watkins has 105 boards, just that total would make him the top rebounder for the Broncos this season. Drmic and Marks check in with 17.6 ppg and 15.5 ppg, the latter handing out 60 assists and making 34 steals in order to pace BSU in those areas through 21 games.
Unable to catch a break even when at home, the Spartans took it on the chin when UNLV came calling a few nights back, the hosts coming up with just 46 points as they shot a dismal 28.8 percent from the floor, including 3-of-21 behind the 3-point line. Bryce Dejean-Jones and Deville Smith both tallied 13 points for the Runnin' Rebels, while Roscoe Smith logged another double-double with 12 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.
Like Watkins for the Broncos, Roscoe Smith is also averaging a double-double at the moment with 12.0 ppg and 12.3 rpg, the latter leading the nation according to UNLV sources. Dejean-Jones heads the scoring list for the program with 14.4 ppg and is also first in assists with 64, while Khem Birch (11.2 ppg and Kevin Olekaibe (10.1 ppg) help out at the offensive end. On defense, there's no team better than UNLV in defending the 3-pointer, holding foes to a measly 26.0 percent success rate.
The battle between Smith and Watkins in the paint should be an interesting one, but if the Broncos have to resort to shooting from the perimeter that might work right into the plans of the hosts.
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