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Rebels crush Minnesota, claim SoCal Challenge

This year’s UNLV Runnin’ Rebels team have matched its best start in five years and most recently picked up another resume-building win in an early regular season tournament title game.

The Rebels wrapped up the SoCal Challenge with a pressure-filled, 71-62, win over the Minnesota Gophers Wednesday, Nov. 23 from The Pavilion at JSerra.

This season, UNLV has compiled three potential resume-building wins. In the first month of the season, the team has defeated the No. 21 team in the country, beat a team in the KenPom Top 100 as well as this victory over a team from the Big 10.

Currently, the Rebels sit with a 6-0 overall record, the best since 2017-18. Now, the team will look to keep adding to its win total. In 2011-12, the program started 8-0 including a win over the No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels.

With the tournament surfboard trophy in hand, UNLV will return home for a Saturday, Nov. 26 matchup against Life Pacific. Tip-off is slated for 7:30 p.m. from the Thomas & Mack Center.

The stretch of 20 or more forced turnovers for the Rebels ended Wednesday night but it didn’t matter as the 17 the team managed to create, sufficed. Entering play, UNLV ranked No. 2 in the nation, forcing 23.6 turnovers per game.

That stout defense created a game-changing 19-4 Rebel run over the last 7:47 of the first half to take a 14-point lead into halftime. UNLV led by as many as 16 points in the first 20 minutes of play.

The tide changed in the latter part of the first half after a 9-0 UNLV run over a two and a half minute span turned into an eight-point lead for the team.

During that stretch, Minnesota committed four turnovers and was eventually held scoreless for more than four minutes. By the end of the contest, the Gophers shot 37% from the floor as a whole and 29% from three-point range.

UNLV also came up with nine steals on the night after coming into the game averaging 11.8 steals per contest, good for 10th in the country.

Sophomore guard Keshon Gilbert continued his hot streak to start the new campaign. His 17 points outing was tied for the game-high, while shooting 5-for-11 from the field including two made threes. In fact, he knocked down his first two threes of the game, sending him to a 71% to start the new season.

Backup guard Jackie Johnson III bounced back after playing seven minutes in the team’s last outing. He scored six points in his first five minutes on the floor in this one, both on made threes.

Johnson III eventually knocked down his first three attempts from deep on his way to 13 points in 17 minutes off-the-bench.

Fifth-year guard EJ Harkless scored eight points in each half en route to a 16-point night to go along with five rebounds. He struggled from the floor, ending with five makes from the field on 16 attempts.

Senior guard Luis Rodriguez was the final Rebel in double-figures with 15 points, punctuating the victory with a windmill slam dunk with 1:16 left in regulation.

Rodriguez scored his 15 points on 6-of-12 from the field while also pulling down a team-high nine rebounds.

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