Not Flukin’ Around: Rebels beat Rams for second time this season, sweep series
Colorado State was picked as the preseason favorite in the Mountain West and to this point have lost four games total.
However, two of those losses came at the hands of UNLV after the latest meeting between the two programs.
The Rebels beat the Rams, 72-51, Saturday, Feb. 19 from the Thomas & Mack Center securing a season sweep of the preseason conference favorite.
“I feel great – I feel like we’re clicking at the right time,” senior guard Bryce Hamilton said. “I feel like we kind of knew this would happen as we stayed the course. We just can’t be satisfied.”
UNLV is now 11-3 at home and 13-5 in the state of Nevada overall.
As it presently stands, the team is 16-11 overall this season and 8-6 in the Mountain West.
“We’re a talented group,” Hamilton said. “We had some guys out throughout the season. I feel like we’re just now starting to get guys back so the talent has always been there, it’s just clicking right now.”
Coming into this game, the Rebels were sitting in the fifth spot while hosting the No. 3 team in the conference.
While the program still sits in fifth place after the win, UNLV is now four games out of first place with four games left.
According to head coach Kevin Kruger, the team is still taking everything one day at a time. He added that now the team’s “reward” is to go play it’s next game. UNLV will be going for the season sweep against its in-state rival UNR, Tuesday, Feb. 22 with tipoff set for 8 p.m.
“We’re going to enjoy the rest of this day,” Hamilton said. “We have practice and stuff tomorrow so we’re just going to go get ready for Reno. We’ve got a couple more games left so we’re going to be ready to try and get a sweep for them too.”
It was a steamrolling offensive performance from the Rebels when they needed it most to secure upset No. 2 of Colorado State this year.
As a team, UNLV outshot its opponent, 45% to 35%. In addition, the team shot 9-of-24 from three-point range while holding CSU to 5-of-22.
Hamilton led the team in scoring yet again, reaching the 20-point threshold for the 15th time this season.
“I thought he played great,” head coach Kevin Kruger said. “20 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, just the one turnover. Late part of the first half, Jon Sandler and Curtis Terry asked about the adjustment we made from the coaching staff to get [fifth-year guard Mike Nuga] those open threes and that wasn’t us at all.”
Kruger went on to give Hamilton credit for his playmaking, citing it “changed the game.”
Hamilton shot 6-of-15 from the floor with three made threes-pointers to go along with 10 rebounds and four assists.
Prior to the start of the season, Hamilton entered his name into the NBA Draft before entering the NCAA transfer portal in advance of ultimately returning to UNLV.
“I came back to UNLV just wanting to make the NCAA Tournament,” Hamilton said. “I trusted Coach Kruger and the players that he recruited to come back here. I feel like they did a really good job and we’re clicking at the right time and we just have to keep moving forward.”
Nuga added 13 points on 5-of-7 from the field with three made threes. He also hauled in seven rebounds.
“It’s really great for our team,” Hamilton said. “Mike is a great scorer, I feel like he’s gaining that confidence back at a very important time.”
Nuga had a game-high +27 plus/minus.
Hamilton and Nuga were the only two Rebel players in double-figures.
Junior forward Donovan Williams played against Colorado State for the first time this season after sitting out the first meeting with a knee injury.
“Well, this is probably the first time we’ve been healthy,” Kruger said. “Since maybe even June. When we had the June and July workouts, this is what we kind of hoped and planned for our identity to be, which is defense.”
The energy around the team must’ve been infectious as the team led out to a 14-point first half lead before stretching it to 25 points before the end of the game.
UNLV led for more than 36 minutes of the 40-minute ball game. Moreover, in the total 80 minutes played between the two games, Colorado State led for less than two minutes.
Another thing that was infectious was the team’s defensive pressure.
The Rams’ best shooting half saw the team shoot 36% from the field. From deep, the team’s best half hovered around 29%.
Colorado State forward David Roddy was put in clamps again by the UNLV defense, scoring 11 points on 4-of-14 from the field.
“Stop Roddy and [guard Isaiah] Stevens,” Hamilton said when asked about the defensive scheme. “First game, we did great on Roddy – we did well on him tonight again. Stevens went off for 35 points the first time so he was a big emphasis.”
In the two games against the Rebels this season, Roddy combined to shoot 8-of-24 from the floor, scoring 24 points in the process.
Rams guard Isaiah Stevens was held to 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting in close to 37 minutes of action.
The defensive pressure was so suffocating, Colorado State head coach Niko Medved was whistled for a technical foul late in the second half.
Tight defense led to big rebounding numbers for UNLV, outrebounding CSU 45-24.
“We have not lost a game this year when we’ve won the rebounding battle,” Kruger said. “That was a big emphasis. We knew they were going to make shots but with a team like Colorado State, you can’t give them another crack at it.”
Fifth-year forward Royce Hamm Jr. pulled in a game-high 12 rebounds to go along with seven rebounds.
Junior forward David Muoka chipped in with four points and six rebounds in 14 minutes of action. After starting the season without a defined role, Muoka has emerged as a potential standout for this Rebel team heading down the stretch.
“Just never giving up on myself,” Muoka said. “Just always keeping the same confidence, on and off-the-court. Bring it in practice each and every day. I’m fighting down there with guys like [forward Victor Iwuakor] and Royce, battling everyday.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Former UNLV guard Robert Smith had his No. 10 jersey retired and raised to the rafters of the Thomas & Mack Center during halftime Saturday night.
Smith was a part of the 1977 Runnin’ Rebel team that made the Final Four before playing seven seasons in the NBA with Denver, Utah, New Jersey, Cleveland, Milwaukee, San Diego and San Antonio.