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Hamilton shines with Williams as UNLV wins beats Hartford by 17

UNLV is over .500 for the first time since Nov. 24 after winning back-to-back games for the first time in nearly a month.

The Runnin’ Rebels beat the Hartford Hawks, 95-78, Saturday, Dec. 11 from the Michelob Ultra Arena.

“The guys were fighting and competing,” head coach Kevin Kruger said. “Coming out here, Saturday, noon, they were talking in the locker room about ‘What would you rather be doing on a Saturday at noon besides going to play a basketball game?’”

Hartford was coming off its first win of the season in eight tries.

UNLV is now 6-5 on the year after going 2-0 this week from the Michelob Ultra Arena during the program’s Runnin’ Rebels on The Strip promotion.

The team now has a 2-2 record at neutral sites this season.

“I just give all the credit to them,” Kruger said. “We’ve talked about it in film and they’ve taken the approach of, ‘This isn’t what we want to look like.’”

The Rebels will return to the Thomas & Mack Center for a matchup with Omaha Wednesday, Dec. 15.

Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

UNLV has two games left before the start of Mountain West play.

“Our big area of focus I think really is just these last couple of games,” Kruger said. “It’s just to continue to show the guys what works. When they’re in a stance and ready and they’re hands are out and they’re pointing and they’re talking; they can be really good. When they’re not we can struggle.”

Guard Bryce Hamilton scored a season-high 33 points after another fast start, ending the night 12-of-21 from the field.

“Just being able to stay patient on offense,” he said. “Trusting my teammates, they’re moving the ball very well, finding me in good positions where I’m able to score and I just do it.” Over the last three games, Hamilton is averaging 25.3 points per game on 30-of-49 from the field or 61% from the floor.

“I think a lot of that is just him and the staff getting more and more on the same page,” Kruger said. “As we all know, Bryce is incredibly talented and we’ve done our best to put him in those positions.”

Hamilton raced out to a quick 13 points with three made three-pointers.

“I feel like throughout the whole season we’ve been a good shooting team,” Hamilton said. “It was just all about the shot selection and we’re getting better with our ball movement so we’re starting to find the open man and [we’re] able to get in the paint and penetrate and find open threes.”

He finished with four made threes on eight attempts.

Hamilton’s running mate last game, guard Mike Nuga, missed the contest due to injury.

“We’ve dealt with some injuries kind of consistently,” Kruger said. “With the exception of [redshirt fifth-year center James Hampshire], nothing major but they’ve kind of dealt with this as a group. I feel bad for them in a sense because I’m sure some of them feel like it’s been a new team every week.”

Forward Victor Iwuakor also sat out due to injury.

Forward Donovan Williams scored a career-high 32 points on 10-of-12 from the field in 26 minutes of action.

“He’s shot the ball well all year,” Kruger said. “That’s our challenge to him is to continue to -- we talk about it in practice -- about hunting catch-and-shoot three opportunities. I think when he does that, you’ve seen how much ground he can cover. When he catches it in a spot where he can get to the rim with one dribble, it just makes him even more of a threat.”

Williams got going immediately after Hamilton, scoring 13 of his points in the first half.

Midway through the second half, Hamilton and Williams had combined for 41 of the Rebels’ 60 points.

“It’s amazing,” Hamilton said. “[Williams] has been through a lot of up-and-downs, I’m just very happy for him to have this moment. He played a great game today and we’re going to expect that much more throughout the season.”

Later in the second half, Williams tipped an inbound pass, forcing a turnover before finishing the highlight with a made three on the other end.

He went a perfect 3-for-3 from deep.

“The coaching staff has been very strict on us in terms of shot selection,” Williams said. “I think now we’re starting to turn that corner of instead of taking mid-range shots or contested jump shots we’re not out of control but we’re actually attacking the rim. We’re forcing defenses to move, we’re forcing them to be in positions they don’t want to be in.”

For the third straight game, one of the top two scorers for UNLV came off-the-bench. This time it was Williams.

“Obviously, we’ve changed the starting lineup quite a bit,” Kruger said. “I think that can take an adjustment period, maybe. Especially in college. I would attribute that to their approach, the guys just did a really good job this last week or so of coming into practice, getting up there talking to coaches, being attentive in film.”

The lopsided finish came after a first half that featured four ties and eight lead changes.

For the majority of the first 20 minutes, no team could build a lead as large as five points.

However, a 13-2 Rebel run turned the game on its ear and the team eventually built a first half lead as large as 12 points.

The lead would grow to 20 in the second half.

Before the game, 2,500 tickets were purchased so UNLV fans could fill up the Michelob Ultra Arena.

“I would just say, ‘Thank you,’” Kruger said. “The thing with UNLV, I obviously had the opportunity to experience as a player, of course following the program after leaving [whatever the number] the fans are passionate. They’re loud, they get into it.

“All we would say is, ‘Thank you. Hope to see you back at the Thomas & Mack next week. The guys appreciate it, they feed off of it of course.”


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