UNLV got a breakout performance from guard Michael Nuga during last week’s 76-56 win against Seattle. But the Runnin’ Rebels would need to find another source of offense with Nuga out after he made knee-to-knee contact against the Redhawks.
In its Saturday matinee against Hartford, UNLV found sources of offense from Bryce Hamilton and Donovan Williams, who combined to score 65 points in UNLV’s 95-78 win over the Hartford Hawks.
Aside from the scoring performance from Hamilton and Williams, the duo combined to make 20-of-30 field goals and 7-of-11 shots from 3-point range. The Runnin’ Rebels shot 52% from the field in the first half and managed to capitalize on opportunities with the efficient shots they had.
“All the progress they’ve (made) with their shot selection, and the percentages that have increased over the last couple of games, is just from them being stubborn,” head coach Kevin Kruger said after the win. “They’re just being stubborn about getting good shots for each other. And when they do that, they’re a pretty talented group that will just keep getting better. “
What was just as impressive as UNLV’s shooting and shot selection was its ball movement. UNLV had 13 assists on all 13 field goals in the first half, and ended the game with 23 assists on 28 makes. Jordan McCabe led UNLV with 11 assists, a career high for the West Virginia transfer.
As UNLV has worked to improve its shot selection, Hamilton and the coaches have emphasized moving the ball to help them get efficient shots.
“I felt like throughout the whole season, we’ve been a good shooting team,” Hamilton said. “It was just all about the shot selection and now we’re getting better with our ball movement. So we’re starting to find the open man and getting able to get into the paint and penetrate and find open threes.”
Hamilton has been the lone constant for UNLV on offense through the season. Kruger and his staff know what Hamilton is capable of with his high basketball IQ and dynamic scoring ability. He noted that Hamilton notices things on the floor and brings up what he sees to him on the bench.
But Kruger also acknowledged that both sides need to be on the same page when it comes to giving Hamilton the best opportunity to score. And in the last few games, Hamilton has been capitzling on those opportunities he is being put in by the coaches.
“A lot of that is just the staff and (Hamilton) getting more and more on the same page,” Kruger said. “Bryce is incredibly talented and we’ve done our best to put him in those positions. And I think in the last handful of games, we’ve just been on the same page.”
For Williams, it hasn’t been as consistent of a start to the season for the Texas transfer. With some recent adjustments to the starting lineup, Williams has been coming off the bench the past few games.
But just like Hamilton, Kruger and his staff know what Williams is capable of at 6-foot-6. Williams showed off his athleticism by being able to cover a lot of ground on the court. Kruger specifically noted that Williams can get to certain spots on the floor, take one dribble, and be close to the basket.
Williams led UNLV with 15 free throw attempts against Hartford, making nine. And since UNLV has created better shots, it has allowed Williams and the rest of the team to penetrate in the paint and get to the basket.
“It’s amazing,” Hamilton said of Williams’ performance. “He’s been through a lot of ups and downs. I’m just very happy for him to have this moment. He played a great game today, and we’re going to expect that much more (from him) throughout the season.”
UNLV will look to carry its strong offensive performances into conference play, which begins on Jan. 1. But for now, Kruger has been glad to see his team have fun out on the court the last few games after its recent losing streak.
“We’re proud of the guys for fighting and competing…,” Kruger said. “It was fun to be out there and share the ball, with 13 assists in the first half on all 13 field goals. That’s what they were talking about in the half, how they were doing a good job sharing it, moving it, and just are really proud of them. They’re having fun and that’s what we want to see them do.”
UNLV returns to the Thomas & Mack Center Wednesday at 7 p.m. to face Omaha.
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