In the SoCal Challenge final, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels played the Minnesota Golden Gophers, defeating the Big Ten squad 71-62 to win the prestigious “surfboard”. The Rebels continue their perfect start, improving to 6-0 while the Gophers fall to 4-2.
With 12 minutes left in the first half, the Rebels had a 16-8 lead after back-to-back three-pointers from Jackie Johnson III. With seven minutes remaining in the half, the Gophers fought back with a 12-3 run to take the lead 20-19. To complete an 11-0 run, guard Luis Rodriguez made two free throws. As a result, the Rebels led 30-20 with four minutes left in the first half.
The Rebels extended their lead and led 38-24 at halftime. They ended the half on a 18-4 run. The Rebel defense held the Gophers to 33% field goal shooting and 15% from beyond the arc. The Rebels’ offense has not contributed to their success in first halves, but in this one, it came alive, as they shot 47% from beyond the arc.
The Gophers went on a 5-0 run after the break to reduce their deficit to single digits at 38-29. However, the Rebels came back with their own 5-0 run to take the lead back by 14 points with the score 43-29. In the second half, the Rebels led 48-34 after 14 minutes. At this point, the game’s biggest lead for them came as they went on a 14-6 run and extended it to 62-40.
The game was over, but Rodriguez’s windmill dunk with one minute remaining served as the game’s exclamation point. The Runnin’ Rebels won 71-62 despite the Gophers’ valiant effort to make some garbage time buckets in the SoCal Challenge final.
Runnin’ Rebels head coach Kevin Kruger said Rodriguez plays so hard that it leads to fun basketball.
“If every high school and middle school and college basketball player played as hard as Luis does, they’d be a lot better off,” Kruger said. “He gets a ton of rebounds, deflections, and a handful of steals.”
The Rebels controlled the game for 38 of the 40 total minutes. Their ability to win the turnover battle by a wide margin and force 17 turnovers, a season low, was the biggest factor in the win. The Rebels also made 37% of their three-point attempts, which was almost 8% more than their season average.
- Guard Keshon Gilbert led the game with 17 points. He also added five rebounds, four assists, and three steals.
- Guard Elijah Harkless finished the game with 16 points, five rebounds, two assists, and one rebound.
- Guard Luis Rodriguez had a game high nine rebounds and also added 15 points and two steals.
- Guard Jackie Johnson III scored 13 points off the bench.
Kruger said the team is going to eat a nice meal together on Thanksgiving and will be watching some basketball and football.
“This was their fourth game in 12 days,” Kruger said. “We are going to let them get off their feet and enjoy the rest of their day.”
On November 26, the 6-0 Rebels will play again when they host the Life Pacific Warriors. It will be the first of their final six non-conference games before Mountain West play begins.
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