“There’s no place like home.”
It’s not very often that college basketball players can relate to a girl wearing ruby red slippers. Right about now, though, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels probably agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments uttered by Kansas farm girl Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz.
Following a road trip that proved to be more frightening than anything Dorothy encountered on the Yellow Brick Road, UNLV hopes a return to Las Vegas is just the thing to cure its ills when the 20th-ranked Runnin’ Rebels take on Boise State tonight at the Thomas and Mack Center.
If ever a team could use some much needed home cooking, UNLV is surely that team...especially given the events of last week.
First, after building an 18-point 2nd half lead at TCU, the Rebels managed to melt down like the Wicked Witch of the Mountain West, ultimately falling to the Horned Frogs in overtime, 102-97.
Four days later in Albuquerque, after taking a 1-point lead into the half against New Mexico, UNLV ran out of steam again in half number two as the Lobos went on to bury the Rebels, 65-45.
This week’s two game home stand, starting with tonight’s 7:15 tip against Boise State, should get the Rebels back to their winning ways. Just don’t expect to convince a suddenly hot Broncos squad of that.
After dropping its first seven Mountain West Conference games, Boise has clearly righted the ship, defeating Air Force on the road by 11, and then winning back-to-back 1-point thrillers at home against Colorado State and TCU.
The Broncos also know that they can play with UNLV, having taken the Rebels to overtime back in late-January before eventually coming up short, 77-72.
If Boise hopes to take UNLV to the wire once again, they'll need the inspired recent play of Kenny Buckner to continue.
During the Broncos' 3-game winning streak, the junior forward has averaged 14 points and 5 rebounds, reaching double figures in scoring in all three contests. Buckner was also effective during the teams' first meeting last month, yanking down a career high 12 rebounds against the Rebels.
Their recent winning ways aside – and despite having given the Rebels a serious scare back in Boise – the Broncos will be facing a UNLV team tonight that has been all but untouchable at home. At the Thomas and Mack Center this year, UNLV has gone 13-0, winning by an average margin of more than 20 points.
UNLV coach Dave Rice has to hope as well that a return home will equal a return to form for senior Chace Stanback. In UNLV's six Mountain West road games, Stanback has averaged just 7.8 points per contest. Home, however, has been another story for Stanback, who has averaged nearly 14 points per game during conference play at the Thomas and Mack.
The ruby red slippers have been replaced by sneakers, and it’s the Thomas and Mack Center instead of a farm back in Kansas. The message, however, is one in the same: for UNLV, now more than ever, there’s no place like home.