The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels played host to the SDSU Aztecs in their Mountain West home opener on New Year’s Eve. Once again, the Rebels’ inconsistent offense cost them the game as the Aztecs won comfortably by a score of 76-67. The loss is the Rebels’ second straight and they are now 11-3 overall and 0-2 in conference play.
Luis Rodriguez said he just wants the team to put their heads down and get back to work.
“We just have to get back to what we do, get back to that physical defensive team,” Rodriguez said. “We have to just do whatever it takes to win.”
The Rebels offense struggled early in the first half, scoring just four points in the opening four minutes. With 15 minutes left in the half, Justin Webster’s three-pointer reduced the Aztecs’ lead to 10-9. The Rebels’ record for consecutive games with a made three-pointer is now 1,175 after the three-pointer from Webster. The Rebels had a 17-10 lead after an 11-0 run that was sparked by Webster’s shot.
With eight minutes left in the first half, the Aztecs answered with a 13-4 run to retake the lead at 23-21. After Victor Iwuakor’s layup tied the game for the Rebels, the Aztecs struck back. With five minutes remaining in the half, the score was 34-26 after an 11-3 run.
The Aztecs took over for the remainder of the half and led 44-33 at the break. The Rebels only shot 28% from beyond the arc and 44% from the field overall. Meanwhile, the Aztecs were blazing hot and shot 57% from the field and three-point range.
The Rebels were trailing 48-36 with 15 minutes left in the contest. In typical Rebel style they went on a run to get closer. The Rebels’ 48-43 deficit, their smallest since the beginning of the first half, came thanks to a 7-0 run. The Aztecs regained momentum as they then went on a 9-0 run to lead 57-43. The Rebels went five minutes without scoring during this Aztec run.
The Aztecs’ lead was reduced to 59-54 by the Rebels, who came to life and went on an 11-2 run. With four minutes left in the game, they were once once again within striking distance. However, the Rebels were unable to seize the opportunity and lost to the Aztecs by a final score of 76-67. They simply were unable to keep up with the Aztecs in a shootout.
With a 37% field goal percentage and a 38% three-point shooting percentage, the Rebels’ offense was unreliable once more. They played poorly defensively, allowing the Aztecs to shoot 52% from three-point range and 45% from the field. The Aztecs also received assistance from their reserves, who outscored the Rebels’ 20-8.
- Guard Luis Rodriguez finished the night with a game-high 24 points. He also tallied six rebounds, one assist, one block, and two steals.
- Guard Elijah Harkless finished the game with 18 points, eight assists, three rebounds, and two steals.
Coach Kevin Kruger said that they will get back at it on Monday and refocus, as they have a tall task on hand.
“We have to understand that in this league, it doesn’t let up,” Kruger said. “I think the conference is the best it has ever been.”
The New Mexico Lobos are 14-0, so the Rebels must regroup before facing them in their next game. In Kruger’s brief coaching career with the Rebels, this contest may be the most significant.
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