By Daniel Reedy:
The Spartans (9-10, 2-6 in MW) will face a very different group of Rebels (10-11, 3-5 in MW) this season.
San Jose State played just one game against the University of Nevada, Las Vegas last season and lost in a nailbiter, 64-61. SJSU is 4-35 all-time against UNLV and enters this game on a seven-game losing streak against the Rebels.
But with forward Dwayne Morgan done for the season, none of the current Rebels have played against SJSU.
SJSU enters this matchup on its second three-game skid of the season. However, a victory for SJSU would lift the Blue and Gold from 11th to 10th in the MW standings.
In last year’s meeting, Forward Brandon Clarke led the Spartans with 15 points and 14 rebounds but fouled out with just over a minute remaining in the game.
Leading the Rebels was Patrick McCaw who put up a game-high 16 points and now plays for the Golden State Warriors. Despite having McCaw and the Phoenix Suns’ Derrick Jones Jr. in the lineup, the Rebels finished 8-10 (6th and 7th in the standings) in the last two seasons.
UNLV sits in 10th place and will likely need to wait until next season to regain its reputation from years past.
While the Spartans were sitting at the bottom of the Western Athletic Conference, the Rebels made four trips to the NCAA Div. I Tournament from 2010-2013. They were booted in the first round in each of those years but SJSU hasn’t made it to the Big Dance since 1996 — the same year the Spartans last beat the Rebels in San Jose.
Clarke has continued to pad his resume for Mountain West Player of the Year as he leads the conference in field goal percentage, is second in points per game and third in blocks per game.
Outside of Clarke, the Spartans have struggled to find a consistent scoring threat.
Sophomore Ryan Welage has been SJSU’s second leading scorer but head coach Dave Wojcik is hoping Welage can develop into an even better shooter.
“We got to work on Welly,” Wojcik said. “It’s all about efficiency, not volume. That is something we are constantly talking to Ryan about.”
Despite leading the Spartans in three-pointers made, Welage is currently shooting at a lower three-point percentage than last season and is fourth on the team behind E.J. Boyce, Cody Schwartz and Jalen James.
Boyce (who leads at 41.5 percent) and Schwartz play limited minutes and combine for less than 10 points per game. James has struggled from range and hasn’t made a three pointer in four games but is still third in percentage.
The Spartans as a team have been terrible from beyond the arc and are last in the MW in three-point shooting percentage in conference games. However, there is some good news from downtown as the Rebels are the second worst.
UNLV’s leading three-point shooter Jovan Mooring put up 30 points and was 7 of 14 from range last Saturday but struggled against Wyoming on Tuesday, hitting just 1 of 5 from distance.
Unlike SJSU which is clearly led by Clarke, UNLV features four players that average double-digit scoring, including Mooring. Guard Jared Poyser leads the Rebels with 12.5 points per game. The other two, forwards Tyrell Green and Christian Jones, each average 11.2 points per game.
Despite their recent struggles, the Spartans still carry the best turnover margin which could pose significant as the Rebels sit at second to last in the category.
Both teams are tied for eighth in free throw percentage at 68.9.
SJSU will look to defend home court with a tip-off Saturday at 2 p.m at The Event Center in San Jose.