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Rebels cruise to wire-to-wire win over Spartans, final home game up next

A ninth win in the last 10 times out has ensured the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels will finish with a top five mark in the Mountain West with two more regular season games left to play.


UNLV picked up the win over San Jose State Saturday, March 2 by a final score of 68-50 from the Thomas & Mack Center. That marked the fourth regular season sweep of a conference opponent for this year’s UNLV team.


“I think we’re playing good basketball,” fifth-year guard Luis Rodriguez said. “I think we can play even better basketball as a team and do more things to impact winning. Our team is in a good spot but we know we can be in a better one.” 


The latest win for the Rebels moved the team to 11-5 in the Mountain West and locked the team into a three-way tie for third place with intrastate rival Nevada – Reno Wolf Pack and the San Diego State Aztecs. All three teams are currently one game behind first place which is presently occupied by both the Utah State Aggies and Boise State Broncos.


“Bye or not you want to finish as high as you can in conference,” Kruger said. “This is a league that’s been well-respected all year and we’ve cemented our place in those five spots. But I also think this group is looking at just winning the next game.”


UNLV will have a chance to make another significant move in the standings when it takes on No. 20-ranked San Diego State Tuesday, March 5 for the program’s annual Senior Night. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. from the Thomas & Mack Center.


“We’re in a position where we can play for first [or] top three,” fifth-year forward Keylan Boone said. “Why have to steal a bid at all anyway? Just keep playing hard [and] keep searching.”


During this stretch of winning for the Rebels, Kruger has said that freshman point guard Dedan Thomas Jr. will be judged by wins and losses. Thomas was at the heart of this pull away victory, leading the team in scoring with 18 points.


“He’s just gotten better every game,” Kruger said. “He’s somebody that is just truly getting better. He doesn’t get too high and doesn’t get too low.”


Thomas was one of four players who went into the halftime break with eight points during a relatively cold first half for both teams. San Jose State and UNLV combined to shoot 16-for-53 from the field.


In the early going, the Rebels weren’t in knots due to the Spartans defense to the tune of nine first half turnovers including four steals by the visitors.


“Nineteen turnovers isn’t very much like us,” Kruger said. “We’ve been a team all year that’s taken care of the ball for the most part. We kind of made it a little more difficult on the offensive side by cutting out a chunk of our possessions.”


Despite the mistakes, UNLV was able to use several short spurts of staunch defense beginning with an 11-0 run about midway through the first half. This run was complimented with a 9-0 run just before halftime.


During that first stretch, San Jose State was held without a point for just over six minutes on the way to shooting 20% from the floor in the first half.


“With a couple minutes left in the first half it felt during live action like our guys just did a really good job at staying in front of the ball,” Kruger said. “Not giving up layups – we gave up some layups up [in San Jose] just by being late and not getting back in front of the ball.”


The 16-point first half lead was pushed to 20 in the second half. That cushion allowed the Rebels to withstand a late 9-0 run by the Spartans in a last-ditch effort to reverse the outcome.


UNLV racked up 10 blocks during its defensively stamped victory highlighted by blocks on back-to-back second half plays by fifth-year forward Kalib Boone. Kalib, along with his brother Keylan, combined to grab 24 rebounds which is just four shy of tying the total output of the SJSU roster.


Keylan opened the game 0-for-5 from the floor and would not make his first shot until after halftime. He’d finish with five points to his brother’s nine.


Rodriguez was the only other player in double-figures aside from Thomas with 15 points on the night.


Junior forward Rob Whaley Jr. was double-teamed every time he touched the ball in the post and would be held scoreless through the first half and through much of the second. His first points of the night came with just over eight minutes left in regulation and would soon after convert baskets on back-to-back plays.

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