LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — In losing six of its last seven, including four straight, UNLV didn’t have many answers when opponents made a charge. The Rebels did have the answers Tuesday night against Mountain West rival Wyoming.
EJ Harkless’ three-point play capped an 11-0 second half run as the Rebels staged an 86-72 triumph before an announced crowd of 4,539 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The run stretched a 65-60 lead to 76-60 and pushed UNLV to its second conference victory in eight games.
“Now it’s on us to stack games,” said Harkless of ending the four-game skid. “It’s a great opportunity for us to come out and not be satisfied.”
Four Rebels scored in double figures, led by Harkless’ 28 points. Keshon Gilbert and Jordan McCabe each had 12, and Keyshawn Hall added 10 for the UNLV, 13-7 overall.
“Sometimes when you lose it it’s tough to get back,” UNLV coach Kevin Kruger said, referring to the team’s skid. “It can come back in stages. I thought tonight was just a great step back toward playing the way we had been playing.
“We were much more in tune just with each other than we’ve been lately. We didn’t let things get us down.”
Kruger said his players looked more confident in the victory over Wyoming, which is 1-7 in the Mountain West, 6-14 overall. Perhaps it was because of their defense, which got a bit of a tweak, or just that their overall effort seemed to produce positive results.
As for the defensive tweak, McCabe said the goal was to “just keep the ball in front. At the Division I level, you give straight-line drives to any player on the floor, they’re going to make plays for others.
“It sounds so simple, but it is, it’s everything. When they don’t have momentum, they have to take tough shots and the game becomes easier for us.”
Wyoming got 23 points from Noah Reynolds and 18 from Xavier DuSell, who had six 3-pointers. Hunter Maldonado added 11 points.
Wyoming coach Jeff Linder wasn’t happy with his team’s effort, especially early, as the Rebels jumped out to an early lead and had a 41-31 edge at intermission.
“We’re not talented enough where we can just show up and play,” Linder said. ” You have to play with a level of desperation that allows you to make the other team feel uncomfortable and we just didn’t do that tonight. ”
Overall, UNLV made 29 of 54 shots (53.7%), including 11 of 20 3-pointers (55.0%). It marked the sixth game shooting 50% or better for the Rebels, and in each they’ve been the winner.
The victory also was UNLV’s 20th in the past 21 games at the Thomas & Mack against Wyoming. The Rebels had edges in rebounding (33-30), points in the paint (30-20) and points scored by bench players (28-3).
“Just a better overall game,” Kruger said.
The Rebels seemed especially good when Wyoming showed an ability to fight back. With four minutes left, the Cowboys cut UNLV’s 16-point lead to four. But the Rebels then scored the game’s final eight points.
“We had a couple of mistakes where we let guys get good looks, but outside of that combined with one of our better offensive games of the year, it was definitely a good step back in the right direction,” Kruger said.
Harkless, who made 8 of 15 shots and all 11 of his free throws, said the goal now is to be ready for Nevada-Reno, which visits the Thomas & Mack at 7 p.m. Saturday for a game that will be televised by the CBS Sports Network.
“They just beat New Mexico,” Harkless said of the intrastate rival Wolf Pack. “Work hard at practice and be ready. It’s another great opportunity.”