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Rebels honor home arena, pull away from Bulldogs for second consecutive conference win

Stingy was the word of the night as the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels celebrated the 40th anniversary of its home arena with a nine-point win over the Fresno State Bulldogs.


UNLV ousted Fresno State, 78-69, Tuesday, Jan. 30 from the Thomas & Mack Center as the building turned 40 years old. The win makes it back-to-back for the Rebels including a come-from-behind victory against the San Jose State Spartans last week.


“With certain teams, you know that [late push] is coming,” head coach Kevin Kruger said. “Like with Fresno, even with an eight or 10-point lead against Fresno and hopefully people if they watch us and we’re down eight, they think, ‘Well UNLV – they’ll make a run here.’”


While the program’s latest win improves them to 7-3 at home this year, prior to tip, the team had lost its last two meetings from the T&M Center. The most recent showing at home wound up being a 32-point loss to Air Force which served as the first loss against the Falcons program in a decade.


“That one still doesn’t sit right with me,” fifth-year forward Kalib Boone said. “That one doesn’t sit right with me from a team aspect but also from a personal aspect of that.”


More importantly, the victory takes the team to 4-4 in the Mountain West this season while running its overall record to 11-9 as we approach February.


“We only have 10 games left? ” Boone asked. “That’s something you don’t tell us. I didn’t think of it like that. This is great, one of our biggest problems this year was win one, lose one, lose two. It wouldn’t be consistent, obviously we got two but can we grow from two to three and take it day-by-day, game-by-game.”


UNLV’s brief two-game homestand will conclude Saturday, Feb. 3 as the team welcomes in Wyoming for a 5 p.m. showdown from the Vegas Valley. 


“I think being an older team they understand how hard winning conference games is,” Kruger said. “Any college basketball games for that matter but the way the schedule has played out, we’ve gone up against a team that you can easily say is coming in with a ton of confidence and they’re playing good basketball.”


From the jump, the Rebels were all over the Bulldogs on defense. This included holding the visitors without a point for the first 3:54 of the game. Fresno State’s second field goal didn’t come until more than four minutes later.


“That start at the beginning of the first half and the end of the first half was kind of the cushion we needed to get the win,” Kruger said. “So I’m happy for them, I’m proud of them.”


Despite the start, shooting wasn’t the Bulldogs’ problem on the night as the team closed the first half shooting 50% from the field. It was the 21 total turnovers including eight in the first seven-plus minutes of the game that ruined Fresno State’s chances at stealing the game.


Even while forcing 21 turnovers on the night, UNLV was only able to convert them into 18 points on the other end. Fifth-year guard Luis Rodriguez was responsible for pressuring lead guards Isaiah Hill and Isaiah Pope, both of whom ended the night with 11 combined turnovers.


The biggest defensive stand of the game came late in the second half when UNLV went on an 8-0 run while holding Fresno State scoreless for nearly four minutes.


“Just keep finding stops,” Boone said. “They’re a good team but we just stuck with the gameplan, kept them in the halfcourt – they’re a great transition team and we took that away.”


When it mattered most, the Rebels turned to its veteran leadership. Boone scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half highlighted by two big dunks that filled the Thomas & Mack Center with plenty of needed energy. The first punch came off a show-and-go move from the top of the key which concluded with a poster-finish plus the foul while the second was a putback slam.


“Kalib’s one of the most efficient players in college basketball,” Kruger said. “When his career is over, he’ll end up being one of the most efficient players ever. He’s on that level of efficiency.”


To start the game, the aforementioned Rodriguez scored the team’s first 10 points of the game on his way to 12 on the night. All of his points were scored in the first 20-minute session during this wire-to-wire win for the Rebels.


Fellow fifth-year player Keylan Boone recorded a double-double with 15 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. He helped UNLV win the rebounding battle by seven while hauling in 13 offensive rebounds for a total of 12 second chance points.


Freshman guard Dedan Thomas Jr. added 12 points from his starting floor general role while also adding a team-high six assists.

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