It's another Wednesday night, but this time instead of a 7-11 club, the Utah basketball team is facing a 17-4 team that is tied for the top spot in the Mountain West Conference.
The Utes failed last week's test against eighth-place Wyoming and will face a much tougher task in first-place UNLV, the surprise team in the MWC, when the two teams meet tonight at the Huntsman Center.
The tip-off is earlier than usual 6:30 p.m. for television purposes on The mtn.
"This is a big week for our program," said Utah coach Jim Boylen. "We have an opportunity to get back to .500 (in MWC play) for the first time in three years. We have a quality opponent coming in. We'll see what we're made of this week."
The Rebels are the highest-rated MWC team in the Collegiate RPI rankings at No. 30 and are a few spots out of the AP Top 25. They are off to their best-ever start in MWC play at 6-1 and matched last year's 21-game record of 17-4.
"There's no secret why they're 17-4 and 6-1," Boylen said. "They're very well-coached, they have athleticism, pressure defense, they share the ball, they have toughness, they have shooting ... This is a big challenge for us, a big home game."
The Rebels are led by 6-foot guard Wink Adams, who is scoring 15.9 points per game and was named co-MWC player of the week after averaging 24.5 points in two wins last week. He's not a great shooter, however, averaging 40.2 percent from the field and 33.1 percent from 3-point range, both close to his career averages.
Joe Darger, a junior forward out of Riverton that the Utes didn't pursue much out of high school, has turned into a solid player in his third year in Las Vegas.
The 6-7 Darger has started every game and is second on the team in scoring at 12.4 points per game and 5.4 rebounds per game.
"Joe's doing a great job," said UNLV coach Lon Kruger. "His attitude never wavers, he's a team-first guy that will do anything he can to help the team do well. He shoots the ball well, works really hard and goes to battle every night."
The Rebels don't have a center in their starting lineup as the other three starters are 6-5 guard Curtis Terry (10.9 ppg), 6-6 Rene Rougeau (7.7 ppg) and 6-5 Corey Bailey (7.0 ppg). -->
With a smaller lineup, the Rebels rely on their pressure defense, which accounts for 17 turnovers per game. That was a big reason why the Rebels were able to blow out BYU 70-41 earlier this season.
"The key for us is to not turn the ball over, get quality shots and keep them from running out on us," said Boylen.
"We know how tough it's going to be going into Salt Lake to play a Utah ballclub that just had a very good win and is playing hard," said Kruger. "They have size, perimeter guys that are shooting it extremely well coach. Coach Boylen has them playing very hard and they will pose a lot of problems."The Utes then face Air Force Saturday at 4 p.m.
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