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Rebels Defeat Flames, 112-56

Steve Marcus

UNLV Rebels guard Dedan Thomas Jr. (11) takes the ball upcourt past Bethesda University Flames guard Stephen Perry (0)during an exhibition game at the Cox Pavilion Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024.

  • What:
    UNLV at San Diego State
  • When:
    Saturday, 1 p.m.
  • Where:
    Viejas Arena, San Diego
  • TV:
  • Radio:
    1100AM, 100.9FM

There is no easing into conference play this season: UNLV will open the Mountain West portion of its schedule at San Diego State on Saturday (1 p.m., CBS), facing off against last year’s national runners-up on their home court.

Might the Scarlet and Gray make a statement with a big road win? Three keys to watch:

The Aztecs reign

There’s no question, the Aztecs rule the Mountain West. San Diego State claimed last year’s regular-season title, won the conference tournament and advance to the Final Four. And this year’s edition appears to be picking up where that historic squad left off.

Led by senior forward Jaedon Ledee (21.5 points, 8.5 rebounds per game), SDSU is just as tough and physical as ever. The team ranks No. 17 in KenPom’s adjusted defense metric and sits at No. 21 in the overall rankings.

Even in a year where a breakout team like Colorado State finds itself on the fringes of the top 10, San Diego State is the team to beat.

Kevin Kruger put his charges through a bruising practice on Thursday, with an eye toward the gauntlet they’ll face at Viejas Arena.

After that session, Kruger didn’t downplay the challenge San Diego State will present.

“They’re going to be incredibly tough, they’re going to be incredibly physical, they’re going to be incredibly disciplined,” Kruger said. “They’re a great team.”

Hill returns

The Scarlet and Gray should be at full strength heading into the game, as senior forward Jalen Hill participated in Thursday’s practice and declared himself 100-percent recovered from the hand injury that has sidelined him since Nov. 28.

Hill started the first six games at power forward before getting hurt, but it remains to be seen what role he’ll fill as he works his way back into the rotation. While he was away, senior wing Keylan Boone became eligible and junior Shane Nowell returned from injury, so there are more bodies available to fill the frontcourt.

Hill said he’s willing to fit in and provide whatever the team requires.

“It felt great being back out there with the guys,” Hill said. “I think I can add a lot of physicality, rebounding, whatever we need. Whatever we’re lacking, I feel like I can add to that. We got out-rebounded a couple games; I feel like with me being back, I’m going to be physical and capitalize on things like that.”

Backcourt tandem

One of the surprises in non-conference play was the emergence of D.J. Thomas and Jackie Johnson as a dynamic duo.

The two smallest players on the team have combined to give UNLV some of its most efficient minutes, with Thomas running the show as the starting point guard and Johnson coming off the bench as an offensive sparkplug and defensive bulldog. They are also UNLV’s two best 3-point shooters, combining to hit 43.5% from deep.

How effective can they be against the stalwart defense of San Diego State? That could determine how competitive the game ends up being.

What: UNLV (5-5, 0-0 MWC) at San Diego State (12-2, 1-0 MWC)

When: Saturday, 1 p.m.

Where: Viejas Arena (San Diego)


Radio: 1100 AM, 100.9 FM

UNLV leaders


Luis Rodriguez: 12.5 points


Keylan Boone: 8.0 rebounds


D.J. Thomas: 6.3 assists

San Diego State leaders


Jaedon Ledee: 21.5 points


Jaedon Ledee: 8.5 rebounds


Lamont Butler: 3.5 assists

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at

Article written by #LasVegasSun