UNLV, San Diego State set for grudge match after Runnin’ Rebels lose at UNR

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY
UNLV is now dealing with a worst-case scenario in terms of conference tournament seeding after Saturday's loss to their archrivals.

In a season full of complications for UNLV and the Mountain West, Saturday’s scenario was pretty straight forward for the Runnin’ Rebels. 

Beat your nemesis UNR and you are the 2 seed, with either 7 seed Colorado State or 10 seed San Jose State on the horizon.

Lose, and you’re now the 4 seed with a date against defending national runner-up San Diego State in the Tuesday afternoon of doom time slot at the Thomas & Mack Center.

After falling behind by double digits early, Keylan Boone led a UNLV comeback that gave the Runnin’ Rebels a brief lead in the second half. However, UNR simply had more firepower down the stretch and still managed a double digit 75-65 victory despite 24 points from Keylan. 

“In a tough environment with a good team, it’s tough to climb out of that hole and sustain that,” said UNLV coach Kevin Kruger. “As we all know, it’s a game of runs, but if you’re just calling back from double digits for 20, 25 minutes, it’s just tough to hold and sustain that energy throughout.”

“We dug a hole, so it was kind of hard to dig ourselves out,” Keylan Boone added. “We just got to keep digging out these games, especially when they’re rough. We haven’t had a game like this where we just didn’t dig it out.”

“Every other game, we’ve been digging it out. So this one hurts, but we just got to keep on finding ways.”

Had UNLV won, they would have likely been a heavy favorite against San Jose State and a favorite by a few baskets against Colorado State, who limped through their conference schedule despite being ranked at various points. 

Instead, UNLV will be met with the powerhouse of the Mountain West. San Diego State has arguably been UNLV’s biggest kryptonite during their time in the conference, and while UNLV has given them some licks over time too, no Runnin’ Rebel ever feels comfortable against them. 

UNLV split the season series with San Diego State, losing their conference opener to the Aztecs at Viejas Arena after a lethargic start. The Runnin’ Rebels had the upper hand the second time around, neutralizing star Jaedon Ledee in what was their fourth ranked win of the season.

I’ve always said one of my favorite adages in sports is that it’s tough to beat a great team twice. Especially twice in a row within the span of just a few weeks. Doing it against a perennial mid-major powerhouse like San Diego State is even tougher.

With a win on Tuesday, UNLV will then be met most likely by top-seeded Utah State. It will give the Runnin’ Rebels a chance to avenge a game they feel was robbed from them in January, but it is easily the hardest path of any of the top five seeds.

Another reality presented in Saturday’s game is one that UNLV faithful may find even harder to stomach and one that many may not even admit. 

UNR is the best team in the conference. Not only that, but with the way they are playing, I’d probably say they are my current pick to win the Mountain West tournament. 

Can I get one more in? I also don’t think it’s at all unlikely that Jarod Lucas leads the Wolfpack on a deep run in the NCAA tournament. I have a feeling I’ll have a stomach ache when filling out my bracket in a few weeks, because I really do like what they have been putting down lately. 

Okay, that felt gross. I’m sorry. I’m still a UNLV alum at heart. I’ll always try and remain as objective as possible, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to like it.