UNLV looks to extend win streak on Saturday against Reno

Candice Ward-USA Today
Wins at New Mexico and Fresno State extended the Runnin’ Rebels win streak to five, and now they are firmly in the Mountain West race.

LAS VEGAS — After the win against Wyoming last week, Rob Whaley made it clear to reporters that UNLV heard all of the talk. They heard the doubters in the media. They heard the people calling for their head coach’s seat. They heard all of it. 

They could have shut down. They could have said to hell with UNLV and to hell with Las Vegas. The truth is, this is a team largely dependent on first year transfers and one fantastic freshman. The fanbase can be relentless online while showing inadequate support in person. Other teams in a similar circumstance would have shut down after a game like the Air Force disaster. I’ve seen it Maybe even before then. I’ve seen it time and time again.

“They could have folded, but they didn’t – and they really haven’t this year,” Coach Kevin Kruger said after Saturday’s win at New Mexico. “The guys are proving that they are competitive and they love great environments”

But the Runnin’ Rebels. didn’t give in. The Runnin’ Rebels didn’t fold. They’ve now won five games in a row, with a chance at six coming up against Reno on Saturday.  It goes without saying how big of a game this would be even without the circumstances of how the season has played out. When you consider the circumstances, it’s as important of an edition to this rivalry as we’ve seen in the last decade. 

UNLV has controlled the rivalry against Reno the last few seasons, winning the last four matchups including last year’s regular season finale which was the lone home loss all season for the Wolfpack. The results haven’t exactly lined up with the trajectory of the programs, as Reno is on the verge of their second NCAA tournament bid in this span. I don’t know to go into further detail about UNLV’s futility in that department.

UNLV is still postured to be a potential bid stealer in the conference tournament. Short of winning out in the regular season, the conference tournament probably provides the Runnin’ Rebels their only realistic shot at a tournament bid. Even if they do win out in the regular season it would it likely a significant conference tournament run to put their name in the mix on Selection Sunday. Of course, if you win the tournament then that’s all moot anyway. 

UNLV does have a chance to make a run in a few weeks when the Mountain West tournament comes to town. Is it likely they survive another gauntlet of what is maybe the best group of Mountain West teams ever? No, probably not. But UNLV’s performance against the top of the conference this season has given the team and the fan base every right to be confident.  They are the biggest contributor to the volatility of the conference and that will surely rear its head in a few weeks. In some way or another.