Despite some late-game drama, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels were able to close out an impressive 12-point victory in Fort Collins Tuesday night.
UNLV put together one of its more complete games of the season and took down Colorado State on their home court at Moby Arena for the second straight year, beating the Rams, 83-71.
“There’s a little bit more confidence back in the locker room right now,” head coach Kevin Kruger said. “We had a tough two-week stretch and now we’ve had a good week-and-a-half stretch.”
UNLV will look to use that confidence on Friday with their second matchup of the season against Fresno State Friday, Feb. 3. The Bulldogs knocked off the Rebels, 76-63, on Jan. 21 from the Save Mart Center.
The Rebels started slowly in the opening minutes at Moby Arena, falling into a 6-0 hole, but the team quickly ramped up the intensity and went on a 22-4 of their own to grab a commanding lead.
Colorado State would claw back at several points but UNLV held a nine-point lead at the half. Defensively, the team gave the Rams’ top scorer Isaiah Stevens fits, holding him to just two points in the opening half.
Kruger knew containing Stevens was critical to the Rebels’ success.
“He is unique. But giving him different looks with [guards Keshon Gilbert, E.J. Harkless Elijah Parquet, Shane Nowell and Luis Rodriguez is important],” Kruger said. “Once he figures out your rhythm and your cadence, you’re in trouble.”
Kruger later remarked that it’s something they’ve had to learn the hard way with Stevens.
The last time these two teams met on Jan. 14, Stevens scored 33 and tied the game with a last-second three-pointer that would eventually help the Rams steal a win at the Thomas & Mack.
Tuesday was different.
“I thought the guys worked their tails off,” Kruger said. “I thought they made him work for points [...] Kept him out of playmaking situations.”
The Rams’ star led a late charge, scoring 12 points in a row late in the second half. The UNLV lead that had ballooned to 22 fell to just eight after Stevens’ run. However, the Rebels would regroup and hold on for the road win.
With the victory, the Runnin’ Rebels improved to 15-7 on the year, and 4-6 in Mountain West Conference play. They are a half-game behind San Jose State for sixth place in the standings.
While Harkless and Gilbert led the charge Tuesday with 33 points combined, the UNLV bench matched that total as their four contributors provided much-needed depth against Colorado State.
"Man, they be killing us in practice some days,” Harkless said. “To come in and give us that lift off the bench, that was excellent. On the road, that's really tough to do."
The bench unit got a major boost with the return of Rodriguez, who missed the last two games with a groin injury. Rodriguez led that unit with 11 points in relief and played 35 minutes in the game.
Though the team saw the return of Rodriguez, it was without guard Jordan McCabe, which was a significant factor in the late run by the Rams, who used the full-court press to induce turnovers.
The late-game scare evoked memories of the Jan. 14 game, in which the Rams continually fought back from deficits This time though the Rebels remained calm and finished out a solid overall performance.
Five players scored in double figures for UNLV, with guards Keyshawn Hall and Justin Webster also reaching the ten-point mark for the team.