For the first time in four seasons, the Fresno State Bulldogs swept the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels after capping off the sweep Friday, Feb. 3 inside the Thomas & Mack Center by a final score of 82-79.
“Clearly not the result we wanted,” head coach Kevin Kruger said. “Didn’t quite get a rhythm going defensively. Didn’t get them off balance and force them into the shots that would’ve been good for us. They made some big shots and some big plays and we just weren’t able to get back over that hump in the second half.”
This is the third time in the past eight games that the UNLV defense has allowed 80 or more points scored in a game. The last time UNLV surrendered 80 or more points was Jan. 14 in an 82-81 home loss to Colorado State.
“[We’ve] got to get back to work,” Kruger said. “Feels like the second time where we’ve had a little momentum [then] we come back and just don’t have that same fire we had on the road.”
Kruger said the first time it happened was when the team played Boise State after beating New Mexico in the Pit the game before. In this scenario, UNLV came into Friday’s game on a two game winning streak with their most recent win coming against Colorado State on the road.
UNLV now falls to 15-8 on the season which includes a 4-7 mark in conference play. The Rebels are now also 0-4 in one possession games this year.
This 4-7 mark in conference is good for seventh in the Mountain West standings. In order for UNLV to clinch a first round bye in the Mountain West Championship, the Rebels need to finish in the top five of the conference standings. Currently, UNLV sits two and a half games out of fifth place.
This was also the second straight game the Rebels have played an opponent for the second time this season. On Tuesday, UNLV split the season series with Colorado State by grabbing an 83-71 victory in Fort Collins, Colorado.
The Runnin’ Rebels will hit the road for two straight games starting Wednesday as the team travels to Laramie, Wyoming for a showdown with the Wyoming Cowboys. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. and can be seen on FS1.
This will be the second and final regular-season meeting between these two teams. The last time these teams played back on Jan. 24, it was an 86-72 win for UNLV. That win stopped a four-game losing streak for the Rebels. Wednesday’s game will be the first opportunity for UNLV to sweep a conference opponent this season.
In the opening half, Fresno State and UNLV traded runs much of the half with the Bulldogs leading by as much as four while UNLV took a six point lead into the locker room. UNLV’s biggest lead of the half was eight points. The Rebels closed the half on a 6-2 run over the final 1:19 of the first half.
Fresno State used the first 1:58 of the second half to go on a 7-0 run and retake the lead. From there, both sides traded baskets with neither team being able to gain much separation over the other.
The turning point of the game came with 8:44 to go in the game when Fresno State guard Leo Colimerio drained a jumper. This shot sparked a 13-2 run from the Bulldogs that saw them go down five points to up six points in a 3:31 span.
Fifth-year guard EJ Harkless led all scorers with 27 points on 9-18 shooting to go along with four points and four assists. The Bulldogs countered with guard Jemarl Baker Jr. as he led the team with 23 points on 6-12 shooting while fellow guard Isaiah Hill chipped in 22 points on 8-13 shooting.
“[Hill] was able to get downhill and make plays,” senior guard Luis Rodriguez said. “He can come off screens, shoot, and we just struggled to keep him in front.”
Fresno State finished the night shooting 52% from behind the three-point line including 57% in the second half.
“When they shoot 52 to 53 percent from three here and they shot it well up there [in Fresno], it’s going to be tough to win any game when that happens,” Kruger said.”