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Rebels vs Cowboys

Steve Marcus

UNLV head coach Kevin Kruger applauds a play during the first half of an NCAA basketball game against Wyoming Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, in Las Vegas. (Steve Marcus

  • What:
    UNLV at Fresno State
  • When:
    Wednesday, 8 p.m.
  • Where:
    Fresno, Calif.
  • TV:
    CBS Sports Network
  • Radio:
    1100AM, 100.9FM

No one in the Mountain West is hotter than the UNLV basketball team right now, and the Scarlet and Gray will take their four-game winning streak to Fresno on Wednesday as they look to continue their climb up the conference standings.

Can they keep the victories coming? Three keys to watch:

D.J. does it

More than two-thirds of the way through the season, this is a time when a true freshman should be hitting the wall.

Don’t tell that to D.J. Thomas.

UNLV’s first-year phenom only seems to be getting better as his freshman campaign rolls on, as evidenced by his masterpiece 26-point performance in a win at New Mexico on Saturday. Thomas made 8-of-12 from the field, dished out four assists and played good defense while logging 38 minutes.

It’s tough to ask for more than that, but Thomas keeps reaching new heights and setting the bar higher. And it’s having a positive effect on the team, as UNLV appears to be rounding into form just in time for the stretch run.

Fifth-year senior Luis Rodriguez is impressed with the way Thomas has taken control of the team.

“At his young age, what he’s provided for our team and how much of an impact he’s had for us so far, it’s good. It’s really great,” Rodriguez said. “Especially knowing he should be a senior in high school, it’s even more impressive.”

Get tough

Since going to a super-sized starting lineup, UNLV has looked like a new team, notching four straight wins while pummeling opponents into submission.

Defensively, the Scarlet and Gray have held those four teams to 41.8% shooting while forcing 55 turnovers (13.8 per game). Rodriguez has been a big part of that surge, as he has used his length to harass opposing ballhandlers while also pulling down a team-high 6.9 rebounds per contest.

He said he can feel a palpable shift when UNLV’s physicality begins to take its toll on the other team.

“You see it,” Rodriguez said. “Whether that’s boxing guys out or just making the extra effort plays, getting 50/50 balls, I see that as being physical. It takes physicality to go get ‘em. Rebounding the ball at a high level, tagging guys on defense and just hitting somebody, [you’re] making sure your presence is felt.”

Fresno State is a big, physical team as well, and the Bulldogs have already faced UNLV this season, so they won’t be caught off guard by UNLV’s bully-ball approach. Look for Wednesday’s showdown in Fresno to be one ofthe most rough-and-tumble games of the year.

Standings watch

This is a big game for UNLV, as the team’s winning streak has launched them back into the thick of the Mountain West race.

At 6-4 in MWC play (13-9 overall), the Scarlet and Gray are currently tied for sixth place, but just one game out of first in the loss column. UNLV is likely to be favored in its next three contests, and if Kevin Kruger’s squad manages to keep winning, they could make a real run at the top spot.

Kruger said the difference between winning and losing is incredibly thin, and that UNLV has to continue to make the little plays if they want to stay in contention.

“You see all the close games that go on in the conference,” Kruger said. “It’s just one team edging out a couple more than the next. A couple good bounces, couple good breaks, couple shots to fall and you’re going to find yourself in a really good spot.

“At the same time, you’re just as far from the top as you are from the bottom, it feels like. It’s an incredibly competitive conference.”

Who: UNLV (13-9, 6-4 MWC) at Fresno State (11-13, 4-7 MWC)

When: Wednesday, 8 p.m.

Where: Save Mart Center (Fresno, Calif.)

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: 1100 AM, 100.9 FM

UNLV leaders


D.J. Thomas: 12.5 points


Luis Rodriguez: 6.9 rebounds


D.J. Thomas: 6.1 assists

Fresno State leaders


Isaiah Hill: 12.3 points


Enoch Boakye: 8.5 rebounds


Isaiah Hill: 6.6 assists

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

Article written by #LasVegasSun