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Redshirt sophomore guard Cullen Neal reaches out for a layup at WisePies Arena Saturday Jan. 9, 2016. The Lobos will play UNLV this Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Redshirt sophomore guard Cullen Neal reaches out for a layup at WisePies Arena Saturday Jan. 9, 2016. The Lobos will play UNLV this Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Men's basketball: Lobos take on a UNLV squad without Dave Rice

Runnin' Rebels coach resigns Sunday night, days before team hosts UNM

When New Mexico takes the Thomas & Mack Center hardwood against UNLV Tuesday night, the Lobos won’t see Dave Rice on the sidelines.

The Runnin’ Rebels head coach and the university agreed to part ways midway through Rice’s fifth season, UNLV officials announced Sunday night.

Rice accumulated a 98-54 record in five years at UNLV, including a 9-7 mark to start 2015-16. But the team struggled in early Mountain West play with three straight losses. Rice’s resignation happened after Saturday’s 59-57 loss to Wyoming.

“I am particularly proud of our accomplishments, not only on the court, but also academically and in recruiting," Rice said in a statement from UNLV. "It has been a great honor to coach at my alma mater and I wish the players, the coaches, the University, the program and the fans the very best as they move forward."

Associate head coach Todd Simon has replaced Rice as interim head coach for the rest of the season, UNLV athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy said on Sunday. Rice had three years remaining on his contact, according to the UNLV statement.

UNM head coach Craig Neal, who discussed Tuesday’s game last Saturday before the news at UNLV, said he has a lot of respect for Rice and UNLV.

“I've always respected their program, just what they stand for, what they did in the past,” Neal said Saturday. “Now we've had our success since we've been here, but they've beat us too.

Regarding Tuesday’s contest, Neal said he is familiar with UNLV’s offense because assistant coach Ryan Miller, who coordinates the Runnin’ Rebel attack, worked on Steve Alford’s Lobo staff from 2007-12. Neal expects UNLV to run its offense similar to what his team does.

The Runnin' Rebels can find points from several different players as six players average at least nine points per game. Guard Patrick McCaw leads in scoring with 13 points per game, the only Runnin’ Rebel with double digits. Yet forward Derrick Jones Jr. gets 9.6 per game, forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. 9.5, forward Ben Carter and Ike Nwamu 9.4, and guard Jerome Seagers 9.3.

UNLV’s 75.3 points per game ranks sixth among MW schools. The scoring defense, on the other hand, is second best in the conference at 66.2 points per game. Only San Diego State’s is higher. The Runnin’ Rebels beat their opponents by a 9.1-point average, also No. 2 in the MW.

They can go high-low with the 7-footer Zimmerman, a freshman, and the 6-9 Carter. The Lobos have played against size before, but Neal said his team hasn’t seen a 1-2 punch where the four man and five man can both score and pass like UNLV has.

“It'll be the first time we'll really see it,” he said. “It'll be different for us,” Neal said.

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The Lobos (10-6, 3-0 MW), meanwhile, remained one of three unbeaten teams in conference play alongside SDSU and Boise State after Saturday’s victory over Utah State.

Forward Tim Williams’ efficient scoring (60 percent from the field) leads the league. Elijah Brown still ranks second among MW scorers at 19.3 points per game while guard Cullen Neal offers 4.5 assists per game, also second best.

Over the last six meetings, UNM and UNLV have won three each. They again split last year’s series, with the Lobos winning in Las Vegas 71-69.

“UNLV has always given us good matchups, and I think we'll have another good one on Tuesday,” Williams said Saturday. “They're a good team and we have to be ready to fight, especially on the road.”

J.R. Oppenheim is the assistant sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers men’s basketball and women’s soccer. Contact him at or on Twitter @JROppenheim.

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