The loyalty for Nevada and UNLV and their home cities -- Reno and Las Vegas -- will be on full display when the No. 22 and top-seeded Wolf Pack and No. 8 Rebels collide for the third time this season on Thursday in a second-round Mountain West tournament game at the Thomas Mack Center in Las Vegas.
The two teams split their regular-season games, winning on each other's court. And on their home court on Wednesday, the Rebels found a way to survive their first-round game when the Rebels defeated Air Force 97-90 in overtime.
"We're happy we won, but it's going to be short-lived," UNLV head coach Marvin Menzies said after the Rebels went on a 12-0 run in overtime to snap a five-game losing skid and advance. "It's hard to be encouraged when there are so many miscues. We have a short time, we'll gather the troops and get ready."
The Rebels (20-12) squandered a 13-point lead and Air Force tied the game at 76-all to send the game into overtime. But it was all UNLV in the extra stanza.
UNLV's freshman sensation Brandon McCoy made the play of the game in overtime when he sprinted down court to block a fast-break layup attempt. The play ignited the Rebels into the second round.
McCoy finished with 23 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.
"I was glad they were playing like it was one-and-done time," Menzies told the Las Vegas Sun. "Those were energy plays; those were effort plays. A little additional passion, understanding the dynamics of what is necessary to win in this kind of environment, and they showed it. So that was good."
Now the question is will the Rebels have enough gas in the tank to stick with the Wolf Pack, who have shown an affinity for running and scoring quickly -- with only seven scholarship players.
Nevada's consistency is what head coach Eric Musselman is more than happy to discuss.
"The consistency that the team has played with, we're not a team that gets up for one game and then doesn't play another night," Musselman told the Reno Gazette Journal. "Teams that do that don't win their regular-season conference titles. Teams that do play hard every night have the ability to win their conference."
Menzies probably wishes he had a little more time to prepare for the Wolf Pack. That's because on Feb. 28, Nevada (26-6) whipped the Rebels by 26 points in Las Vegas. Cody Martin scored 26 points and Jordan Caroline pumped in 22 points in the victory.
Since starting point guard Lindsey Drew was lost to a season-ending Achilles injury, Cody Martin has stepped up. He was 10-for-19 and added nine rebounds, seven assists and three steals in last week's win over the Rebels.
That win was sweet payback for the Wolf Pack, whom the Rebels defeated on Feb. 7. Jovan Mooring scored 31 as UNLV went into Lawlor Arena and ended Nevada's 16-game home winning streak with a thud. The Wolf Pack played without leading scorer Caleb Martin, who is one of handful of walking Wolf Pack wounded.
"Just sitting there watching, I was so irritated, mad," Caleb Martin said before the Wolf Pack earned redemption last week in Las Vegas. "It hurt. The good thing is I look back at it and we get a second chance in their building."
Nevada didn't waste the opportunity to remind its archrival who's ranked in the Top 25, who probably has earned an NCAA Tournament berth no matter what happens before Selection Sunday and who's the best team in the Silver State.
"We have great respect for (UNLV's) talent," Musselman said. "We have great respect for coach Marvin (Menzies). I think they're one of the most talented teams in the entire country."
If Nevada has a weakness, it might be its depth. Caroline is playing with a fractured pinky suffered against the Rebels last week and Caleb Martin still is bothered by a foot sprain.
"You try not to focus on what's going on when you have injuries," Cody Martin told the Gazette Journal. "It is what it is. If you're hurting, this is the time to fight through it. We need everybody at this point. We don't really have any room for anybody to go down and not play."