Runnin’ Rebels outmatched by No. 23 Aztecs in 82-71 loss

Source: UNLV Athletics

The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels traveled to San Diego, California on Saturday to face the No. 23 San Diego State Aztecs. The Aztecs prevailed in their first encounter, and they did so again in this one. The Aztecs defeated the Rebels by a score of 82-71 and were simply too formidable. The Runnin’ Rebels are now 5-8 in the Mountain West and 16-9 overall.

The Aztecs started the game with a 14-6 run. With 14 minutes remaining in the first half, however, Elijah Harkless made a three-pointer to cut the Aztecs’ lead to 14-9. The Rebels’ record for consecutive games with a made three-pointer was extended by Harkless to 1,186. The Aztecs’ lead was cut to 16-11 when Jordan McCabe made a jump shot, but the Rebels were held scoreless for the following three minutes. With nine minutes remaining in the half, the Aztecs went on a 14-0 run to extend their advantage to 30-11. The Rebels struggled to score, defend, and control the ball during this run. Everything pointed to a disaster.

With six minutes remaining in the half, the Rebels began to show signs of life as they went on an 8-3 run to cut the Aztecs’ lead to 33-19. For the remainder of the half, this was the closest the Rebels would get. With less than two minutes left until halftime, the Aztecs retaliated with an 8-2 run to extend their lead to 41-21. The Rebels entered the break down 43-23 after a terrible first half. The Rebels’ previous season-low for a half this year was 23 points. Harkless was the only Rebel with double-digit points, as no other Rebel had more than five.

Head coach Kevin Kruger said Harkless’ effort was a bright spot during the first half.

“He just has to stay consistent with it,” Kruger said. “Hopefully it rubs off on a couple guys and we just compete.” 

Compared to the Aztecs’ 52% field goal percentage, the Rebels only shot 25%. The Aztecs shot 37% from beyond the arc, while the Rebels only shot 18%. Additionally, the Aztecs outgained the Rebels in points in the paint, bench points, and rebounding.

Kruger said his team would need to keep competing coming out of the half. 

“Just keep competing,” Kruger said. “We have 20 minutes and it’s a game of runs.”

After the break, the Rebels showed signs of life as they went on a 13-6 run led by Keshon Gilbert and Harkless. The Rebels were down 48-34 with 16 minutes remaining in the second half. The Aztecs weathered the storm and retaliated with an 8-0 run to extend their lead to 56-34. The Rebels were unable to overcome the Aztecs’ sizeable lead despite playing better in the second half. The Rebels went on a 13-4 run in the final four minutes of the game, but it wasn’t enough as the Aztecs won.

With 24 points, Harkless led the way but fouled out. The Rebels’ offense was much stronger in the second half, but they were unable to make up for their subpar shooting in the first. The Aztecs shot 52% from the field and 43% from three-point range, demonstrating their offensive comfort. The Rebels’ 21 forced turnovers and 21 points scored as a result were some positives. Additionally, they prevented the Aztecs from scoring a field goal for the final 3:35 of the game.

Key Performers

  • Guard Elijah Harkless led all scorers with 24 points. He also added three rebounds and two assists. 
  • Guard Keshon Gilbert tallied 19 points, two rebounds, and three assists. 
  • Center David Muoka finished with 12 points and three rebounds.

On Feb. 14, the Rebels return to the Thomas and Mack Center to play host to the San Jose State Spartans at 7 p.m.

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