UNLV and San Diego State have been the class of the Mountain West for the last six years. Surprisingly, they've never faced each other when ranked in the Top 25.
That changes Saturday afternoon.
With each team looking for an eighth consecutive win, No. 12 UNLV travels to face 22nd-ranked San Diego State in the conference opener for both clubs.
While this is the first matchup between the schools when ranked, SDSU has dominated the rivalry in recent years by winning a school-record five straight and eight of nine from the Runnin' Rebels.
SDSU and UNLV have combined to win five of the last six conference titles, with the Aztecs winning three.
"I think it's going to be a good starter for us," SDSU senior forward Tim Shelton said of facing the Rebels. "Obviously a lot of people say we just got through the easiest part of our season. ? We will learn a lot about ourselves after Saturday."
UNLV, which is 2-3 in Mountain West openers on the road, comes in with its highest ranking since 1992-93. The Rebels (16-2) have taken two of three from Top 25 opponents this season, including a 90-80 win over former No. 1 North Carolina on Nov. 26 behind 28 points from senior Chace Stanback, the Rebels' leading scorer (14.8 per game).
First-year coach Dave Rice's team has been idle since an 89-57 rout of Cal State Bakersfield on Jan. 5, as Mike Moser and reserve Justin Hawkins each scored 17.
Moser (14.2 ppg, team-high 11.1 rebounds per game) is one of three Rebels scoring in double figures with Stanback and Anthony Marshall (10.6). Hawkins is fourth, averaging 9.8 points.
That balanced output has UNLV leading all Mountain West teams with an average of 81.3 points. The Rebels also lead all MWC teams in offensive rebounds (12.4), blocks (5.1), assists (18.8) and steals (8.7).
Rice knows extending UNLV's winning streak - and ending SDSU's - at Viejas Arena won't be easy.
"We know what a challenge it will be. San Diego State is very good at home, but we've been quite resilient on the road. It will be a great challenge for both teams," he said.
Despite Rice's claim of resiliency, the Rebels are just 3-2 away from home, including a 62-51 defeat at then-No. 14 Wisconsin on Dec. 10. UNLV is shooting 45.2 percent shooting from the field on the road compared to 51.1 percent at home.
SDSU (14-2) has gone 33 consecutive games without allowing an opponent to shoot greater than 47.6 percent.
The Aztecs have already matched the second-best start in school history. Last season's squad got off to a school-record 20-0 start en route to winning its second straight conference crown.
Junior guard Chase Tapley said SDSU has been preparing for this game all season.
"We have been practicing really hard, and going into games like it is UNLV. So it's not going to be a hard transition, we are going to be ready," said Tapley, who is the Aztecs' top scorer with a career-best 17.3 points per game.
SDSU has alternated wins and losses in its last six home games against ranked opponents. Tapley sank two free throws with 8.6 seconds left to lift the Aztecs to a 64-63 victory over then-No. 24 California on Dec. 4.
SDSU dodged a scare in its last game, erasing a seven-point halftime deficit to get by winless Chicago State 73-65 on Tuesday. Tapley scored 13 of his 24 points during a 24-3 second-half run that helped the Aztecs avoid the upset.
"He really is (responding). It's the nature of the game where you earn stripes and he's gone from Private First Class to Lieutenant Colonel now. He's gotten some responsibility and he knows it," coach Steve Fisher said.
UNLV will also want to try and contain Jamaal Franklin. The sophomore guard is second on the Aztecs in scoring (15.1) and rebounding (6.3) per game.