Unlv vs utah state basketball

UNLV vs Utah State Basketball

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Runnin’ Rebels (6-8, 1-0) | Utah State Aggies (13-2, 2-0)

 

UNLV will kick off the new year and new decade with a tough conference game against Utah State. 

The Runnin’ Rebels are coming off two straight wins against non-conference opponents to wrap up 2019 and their non-conference schedule.

They are now resuming conference play after a hard-fought 81-80 overtime victory over Fresno State on Dec. 4, which was arguably their best game of the season.

Junior guard and team co-captain Amauri Hardy currently leads the team in scoring with 15.2 points per game. Senior guard and other co-captain Elijah Mitrou-Long and junior forward Donnie Tillman also average scoring in double figures with 12.9 and 12.4 points per game respectively. Mitrou-Long is currently out with an injury and will miss his sixth straight game with a broken left thumb.

Utah State head coach Craig Smith is now in his second season at the helm. Last year, the Aggies finished the season with an overall record 28-7 and 15-3 in conference play They won a share of the Mountain West regular-season title, and went on to win the Mountain West Conference Tournament. They received an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament where they faced a tough eight and nine seed matchup against Washington of the Pac 12. It was a hard-fought battle that was a bit too much for the Aggies, as their season ended with a 61-78 loss.

Coach Smith and his team now return as the preseason favorites to win the conference again and look poised to do so as they are returning almost every single player from last year. Reigning Mountain West Player of the Year and Mountain West Tournament MVP Sam Merrill is back and leading the way with 17.7 points per game.

Last season’s Mountain West Freshman of the Year Neemias Queta started the season hurt, but has played in the last four games for the Aggies. After flirting with the NBA, he chose to return to Utah State hoping to make a greater run in the NCAA Tournament his second time around. Queta has struggled a bit to start the season but looks to get back into the flow of things as conference play continues on.

Sophomore forward Justin Bean, junior forward Alphonso Anderson, and sophomore guard Brock Miller all also score in double figures with 14, 11.9, and 10.3 points respectively.

In UNLV’s last game, a victory over Eastern Michigan, junior forward Mbacke Diong finished the game with 15 points and 5 rebounds. It was his first time this season leading the team in points where he was aggressive on offense and finished shooting 6-9.

Diong needs to continue being aggressive like this and be a dominant force in the paint if the Runnin’ Rebels are going to see any success in conference play. I have been saying this for the past month now. In the past few seasons, he took a backseat behind Brandon McCoy and Shakur Juiston as they were the dominant big men for the team. With both of them now gone, he has to be a force down low in the post.

Whenever he grabs an offensive board, he needs to quickly and effectively put the ball back up and score. He has a tendency to bring the ball down, allowing the defenders to take it away. On the defensive side, he needs to start the break by throwing that outlet pass to his teammates after grabbing the rebound.

The Runnin’ Rebels will resume conference play against defending conference champs Utah State on New Years Day at 8 pm, inside the Thomas & Mack Center. The game can be seen on CBS Sports Network and heard live on ESPN Radio 1100 AM.

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Isaiah Torres

Twitter: Isaiah_Torres24

 

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