The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels made the trip to Reno on Saturday to play their rivals, the UNR Wolf Pack. The Runnin’ Rebels defeated the Wolf Pack to end the regular season by a score of 69-67 in overtime. Since joining the Rebels, head coach Kevin Kruger’s perfect record against the Wolf Pack stays unblemished. The Rebels also ended the Wolf Pack’s perfect home record on the season. The Rebels’ finished their regular season with an overall record of 18–12 and a 7–11 record in the Mountain West.
Kruger said this was a hard fought win and that he was proud of his team.
“This was just about showing character and fight,” Kruger said. “Guys made plays when they had to.”
With a three-pointer, Elijah Harkless got the Rebels’ scoring started. Harkless’ made shot raised the Rebels record of consecutive games with a made three-pointer to 1,191. In their ensuing possession, Justin Webster made another three-pointer to extend the Rebels’ lead to 8-0. Harkless continued the offensive barrage by making a three-pointer and making the score 11-0. The Rebels went on a 13-0 run to start the game, which Luis Rodriguez capped with two made free throws.
UNR countered with a 12-0 run, cutting the Rebels’ lead to 13-12. The Wolf Pack’s momentum was broken by David Muoka’s layup as the Rebels increased their lead to 15-12. UNR was unfazed by this, and after Muoka’s layup, they scored five straight points to take their first lead of the game, 17-15. With his subsequent three-pointer, Keyshawn Hall restored the Rebels’ 18-17 lead. Harkless completed an “old-fashioned” three-point play to extend the Rebels’ lead to 21-17.
With under two minutes left in the half, Rodriguez made a free throw to cap off a 10-2 run and extended the Rebels’ lead to 31-21. Due to neither team scoring in the final two minutes of the half, the Rebels took their 31-21 lead to the locker room. It was notable that UNLV led by 10 points at the break despite playing most of the half without Keshon Gilbert, their second-leading scorer. Gilbert was ejected for head-butting a member of the opposing team.
Kruger said his team was fighting like crazy through the adversities in the first half.
“We’re fighting like crazy,” Kruger said. “The guys are banding together and just trying to make things work.”
Though not as bad as the Wolf Pack, the Runnin’ Rebels’ offense struggled from the field. Harkless led all scorers in the first half with 17 points. UNR only managed 29% from the field and 12% from beyond the arc thanks to the Rebels’ defense.
Webster made a layup to give the Rebels a 35-23 lead. It was also the beginning of the Rebels’ collapse. This would be the largest lead the Rebels would have in the second half. The Wolf Pack immediately went on a 12-0 run to tie the score at 35. Jackie Johnson III made a three-pointer to give the Rebels a 38-35 lead and halt the UNR momentum. The score remained tied at 40 with 12 minutes left in the half.
The Wolf Pack went on a 14-6 run to take control of the game at 54-46 late in the second half. Webster made a three-pointer to cut the UNR lead to 54-49 with two minutes to play. Webster’s make also ended a four-minute scoring drought for the Rebels. Rodriguez then made a putback dunk to cut the UNR lead to 54-51 after the Rebels made a stop.
The Rebels were fortunate to then foul the Wolf Pack, who missed both of their free throw attempts. Harkless then walked down the court and sank a long three-pointer to tie the score at 54. Harkless fouled out during the next Wolf Pack possession. The Wolf Pack made both of their free throw attempts to make it 56-54. The Rebels then needed a stop after Johnson III missed the potential game-tying shot. After grabbing the rebound, Rodriguez went coast-to-coast to tie the game at 56. With 10 seconds left in regulation, UNR had possession but were unable to secure the victory and the game went to overtime.
Kruger said he is happy for Harkless because of how far he has come.
“He has put a lot of work in,” Kruger said. “He has great experience making this year what he wanted his last year of basketball to be.”
It was the Johnson III show during the overtime period as he scored seven points to complete the task that Harkless had begun. In response to each bucket the Wolf Pack made, Johnson III was making his own. Rodriguez made two free throws with 12 seconds left in overtime to give the Rebels a 69-66 lead. The Rebels then fouled the Wolf Pack to prevent them from having a chance to tie the game. With five seconds left in the extra session, the Wolf Pack eventually had possession of the ball again, but they couldn’t convert and the Rebels won.
- Guard Elijah Harkless led all scorers with 24 points. He also added eight rebounds, four assists, and two steals.
- Guard Jackie Johnson III finished with 12 points (seven of them in overtime) and two assists.
- Guards Justin Webster and Luis Rodriguez combined for 24 points.
The Rebels are the seventh seed for the Mountain West Tournament. They will compete against the Air Force Falcons, who they defeated recently, at a date and time still to be announced. But we do know that the game will take place at the Thomas & Mack Center as Vegas is set to host the conference tournament.
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