UNLV still confident

As Mountain West Conference play approaches, UNLV knows that pre-season predictions don't mean much.

A year ago, the media picked the Runnin' Rebels to finish sixth. Instead, they finished second, won the MWC tournament title and, even more impressively, advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament as a No. 7 seed.

Now, UNLV (8-4) is setting its sights on a regular-season championship and a return to the NCAAs. Guard Curtis Terry says last year's amazing run has been beneficial to this year's squad, which narrowly lost to No. 17 Arizona, 52-49, in Las Vegas last Wednesday.

"It was a great experience to be able to go through that, to win the conference tournament, then going to Chicago and winning those (NCAA) games (over No. 10-seed Georgia Tech and No. 2 Wisconsin). It helped the confidence of this year's team, knowing that even when nobody expects you to do anything, you can always work hard, persevere and come out on top."

The Rebels, picked to finish second in the conference this season, lost a host of players from a year ago, including Wendell White, Kevin Kruger, Michael Umeh and Joel Anthony. However, UNLV is still loaded with talent. Besides Terry, key returning players include Wink Adams, Joe Darger and Rene Rougeau.

"I think this year we have a great opportunity to be successful again," Terry said. "Once we get everybody on the same page, we'll be the only ones to stop ourselves."

Terry added that UNLV's postseason run sent a message to the rest of the country about the MWC.

"What we did last year is a testament to the kind of basketball that is being played throughout the conference. BYU also made the tournament and they came close to knocking off Xavier, which should have beat Ohio State, which made it to the championship game. From top to bottom, there are a lot of good players and a lot of good teams in this conference."

Junior circuit

The top six scorers to this point in the MWC are juniors and 13 of the top 20 scorers come from that same class.

BYU's Trent Plaisted (17.4) leads the way while teammate Jonathan Tavernari (14.5), who ranks No. 7, is the only sophomore among the top 10. Wyoming's Brad Jones (14.2) is No. 9 in scoring and he is the only senior among the league's scoring leaders.

Player of the week

TCU's Kevin Langford earned MWC player of the week honors for his efforts in guiding the Horned Frogs to a pair of victories last week.

The junior forward averaged 24 points and 5.5 rebounds and shot 66.7 percent (16-of-24) from the floor as TCU defeated previously undefeated Texas-Arlington, 77-74 in overtime, and Prairie View A&M, 92-80.

In the win over Prairie View A&M, Langford became the first Horned Frog player since 2002 to score 30 points or more in a game, finishing with 31 on 10-of-13 shooting from the field and 10-of-15 from the free throw line.

At the half

MWC teams have a combined 64-8 record in contests in which they hold a halftime lead this season. Air Force (7-0), Colorado State (4-0), New Mexico (10-0) and Utah (7-0) are all undefeated when ahead at intermission.

Worth noting

Plaisted is leading the league in both scoring (17.4) and rebounding (9.8). He is vying to become only the second player in MWC history to finish with the highest averages in both categories for the season. Former Utah center Andrew Bogut is the only MWC player to accomplish that feat. He averaged a league-high 20.4 points and 12.2 rebounds per contest in 2005. ... New Mexico (11-2) is riding a 10-game home winning streak and a four-game winning streak overall. ... Colorado State's 63-60 setback at home to Colorado marked its first loss in 24 games against non-conference foes at Moby Arena. ... Air Force leads the MWC in scoring defense, allowing 54.7 points per game. That's good for No. 5 in the country in that category. ... San Diego State has a 23-4 record when junior Kyle Spain scores in double-figures. He has scored at least 10 points in nine games this season and leads the Aztecs in scoring, averaging 14 points per game.