UNLV puts the squeeze on San Diego, win by 80-57
The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels ended its non-conference slate of games with a 80-57 win over the San Diego Toreros Wednesday, Dec. 22 from the Thomas & Mack Center.
It was a wire-to-wire performance in the final regular season non-conference game for the home team.
“We were just playing [NBA] Youngboy in the locker room,” forward Donovan Williams said. “The vibe is good. I think everybody feels like, even the coaches, going into conference we all feel like we have that momentum. The same way we started the season, the same momentum we had, we finally got that back and it’s important going into conference.” Both UNLV and San Diego entered the game with 7-5 records and both were riding three-game win streaks.
This four-game win streak is now the longest of the season for the Rebels.
UNLV is now 6-1 at home and will host the San Diego State Aztecs Saturday, Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. from the Thomas & Mack Center.
“It’s not just ‘coach-speak’ but we really didn’t look ahead,” Kruger said. “With a new group we knew every game would be important. There weren’t a lot of games where we could assume what’s going to happen with the guys and how they were going to feel.
“You combine that with the injuries a lot of them have battled through – the ones that haven’t had to deal with something, have had a new team every week, new roles, new positions to play almost for each game.”
In all eight wins this season, Kruger’s group has held opponents to 36.2% from the field, averaging 59.9 points per game in the process.
Additionally, the team has held opponents to under 40% shooting in six of its eight games played.
“That’s one thing we talked about coming out at the half,” Hamm Jr. said. “We threw the first punch with great intent and I think that’s one thing the coaches have been emphasizing is just intent.”
UNLV posted back-to-back halves holding San Diego to under 40% from the floor. In addition, the Toreros were held to 32% in the first 20 minutes with 10 turnovers committed.
San Diego was held to 35% shooting on the night.
Williams made his first start in four games and responded with a big first half where he scored 12 of his 20 points in the first half.
“I think everyday now everybody has a little [bit of] a different approach,” he said. “I think ever since the SMU game we’ve all kind of had our talks and everybody figured out what we needed to do. So ever since then everybody has been on a tangent, trying to find different habits and just finding ways to grow individually so we grow as a team.”
Not much could stop Williams in the first half aside from the two fouls that forced him to sit for the last 3:38 before halftime.
“As much as anybody, Donovan has just transformed really,” Kruger said. “I mean he’s doing everything that we’re asking him to do. The offensive ideas that we put in for him as a staff and if you go back and comb through the games, the couple of things he was doing early, he’s cut all of that out.”
He would come back and finish with 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting to go along with six rebounds and three assists.
Williams has scored in double figures in nine of the 13 games played by the Rebels.
“I’m seeing the Elkins High School Donovan,” Hamm Jr. said. “It’s been amazing to see Donovan’s success. He’s one of the guys of course, that I’ve been with for a long time. And I know how hard he works and how much he cares about the game of basketball and I know he wants to do well.”
Leading scorer Bryce Hamiton didn’t cross the double-digit scoring mark until 14:59 remaining in regulation.
He would finish with 20 points after scoring 13 of his points in the second half.
Hamilton and Williams combined for 40 points after tallying 65 points as a unit 11 days ago versus Hartford University.
Hamm Jr. added a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds in 24 minutes on the floor.
Twelve players played for UNLV including guard Mike Nuga and forward Victor Iwuakor.
Nuga was only able to play 5:39 after being bothered by a nagging knee injury.
“Mike Nuga’s knee was bothering him a little bit,” Kruger said. “Nothing structural but he went out and played five minutes and forty seconds, giving those guys a breather was about all he could do tonight.”
Iwaukor saw his first action since making his season debut Wednesday, Dec. 8 against Seattle from the Michelob Ultra Arena.
Iwuakor recorded a rebound and a steal in his 10 minutes of game-action.