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Nuga, Hamilton combine for 39 points in Rebels 20-point win

Guards Mike Nuga and Bryce Hamilton led the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels to their second win in the last seven games to improve to .500 on the season.

UNLV beat Seattle University, 76-56, Wednesday, Dec. 8 from the Michelob Ultra Arena.

“That was just care,” guard Mike Nuga said when asked about reports of a locker room explosion after the team’s last loss. “I just care a lot, we all care a lot. That was nothing. We get back to practice, keep that same aggression, that same passion and we apply it to the game for each other.”

While improving to 5-5 on the year, the Rebels beat a RedHawks team that was 7-2 entering the contest.

Coming into the game, UNLV was reeling having lost five of its last six.

“Completely, from the coaches to everybody,” Nuga said when asked about a different mentality for the team coming in. “I feel like everybody stepped it up. We know what we have to do, we know what we’re capable of.”

Following a 21-point loss to the San Francisco Dons, multiple reports surfaced of overheard shouting and screaming coming from the Rebel locker room.

“What we saw from Mike in the locker room was great,” head coach Kevin Kruger said. “We loved it, absolutely loved it. Because it was passion and energy. No finger pointing, he had a feeling of guilt. He wanted to do more, he wanted to help his teammates more and he felt like he wasn’t doing it.

“The frustration was with himself and that allowed him to kind of get that off his chest and I think that was important. Things like that we don’t shy away from, we don’t shy away from those types of meetings at all because they’re nothing but helpful.”

The contest against Seattle was the first of two straight games on the Las Vegas Strip for UNLV. A matchup with the University of Hartford is next slated for Saturday, Dec. 11.

Tip-off is set for 12 p.m.

It wasn’t the best start for UNLV as Seattle raced out to an 8-0 start before an 8-0 run from the home team tied the ball game a little over four minutes into the game.

The Rebels would turn that into a 13-0 run and would not relinquish the lead for the rest of the game.

During the start of that run Nuga drained two three-pointers off defensive stops by the team.

“Personally, [I just changed] some habits leading up to the game,” he said. “Changed a couple of things in my life and that’s really it. I work hard every day so this is just what I do.”

He would go on to make three more in the second half before finishing with 21 points on 8-of-13 from the field with five made threes.

Nuga also recorded eight assists and five rebounds.

“He had a great game today,” Hamilton said. “He did what he does best, driving the ball. He also kicked [it out] for others. Definitely his best game by far at UNLV and we expect that. That’s something he does every single day and we’re going to expect more from him."

Another key to changing the momentum was Seattle’s Riley Grigsby being saddled with early foul trouble.

After picking up his second foul of the game, Hamilton went to work.

He would make three of his first four shots from the floor and would go into halftime with 11 points, helping UNLV build a lead as large as 11.

“I’ll say from the start of the game,” Hamilton said when asked about getting to the paint with ease. “We watched film on them, we watched defense and stuff and we were able to see where we could get our shots. Just being aware of that and just get in the paint and look for a teammate or opportunity to score.”

Hamilton was nearly perfect from the field, going 8-of-9 finishing with 18 points.

The lead would grow in the second half to as many as 21 points through tough defense.

“I think we got back to ourselves,” Nuga said. “I think that when we practiced, we hit it really hard. Just getting back to UNLV basketball and getting our identity back. This is what we’re going to see from here-on-out.”

Grigsby started the game 3-for-4 from the field but would be held to two points with no made field goals in the second half.

He entered the game averaging 14.6 points per game for the RedHawks.

In just five minutes played, junior transfer Victor Iwuakor made his imprint on the defensive end.

Immediately after checking into the game for his season debut, Iwuakor forced a steal that led to Nuga’s first three-pointer.

He also was in on a block made by guard Jordan McCabe and another play where McCabe was credited for a steal.

However, while attempting to block a shot after the whistle, Iwuakor appeared to tweak his shoulder and would leave the court before sitting the remainder of the contest.

“It was precautionary,” Kruger said. “We knew we didn’t have a specific minute-limit for Vic but we did understand that when you haven’t played contact basketball for a while, there’s muscles, ligaments and joints that haven’t been used and you can’t prepare for it without playing off instinct and reaction. I think he kind of looked at me and walked over to the sideline and we just decided at that point those five minutes were good.

“I think you all saw what he’s capable of, what he can do, what he can bring to the team, his energy and his athleticism is something that we’re looking forward to using more in the lineup. And it gives us another piece, especially down there as somebody who can help out [forward] Royce [Hamm Jr.] even more.”

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