Runnin’ Rebels close out non-conference play with fourth straight win

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Bryce Hamilton driving to the basketball during the Runnin' Rebels game at the Michelob ULTRA Arena against Seattle University. Photo by Jordan Anders-McClain.

Kevin Kruger didn’t have to worry about UNLV’s focus in its last game before the Christmas break. 

The Runnin’ Rebels led wire-to-wire Wednesday night against the San Diego Toreros, winning 80-57 and taking their fourth straight as the non-conference portion of their schedule concluded. 

“I couldn’t be happier and more proud of them because they played the way they practiced the last few days,” Kruger said. “It showed they were nowhere else. They were locked in on San Diego.”

UNLV jumped out to an early 9-2 lead a few minutes into the game. San Diego would cut the deficit to 18-16 midway through the first half. 

But behind a 12 point first half performance from Donovan Williams, UNLV closed the first half on a 16-4 run to take a 42-24 lead into halftime. 

The Runnin’ Rebels held the Toreros to 32.1% shooting in the first half and did not allow a 3-pointer on seven attempts. UNLV capitalized on its opportunities from the free throw line, making 12-of-13 attempts to help grow its lead. 

UNLV did not slow down in the second half, as its lead grew past 20 points behind a 50% second half shooting performance as a team to put away San Diego. Bryce Hamilton scored 13 of his 20 points in the second half, as he and Williams each finished with 20 points each.

While the Runnin’ Rebels have won their last four games, the biggest factor to their winning streak has been the consistency the team has built through the first half of non-conference play. 

“The biggest key is consistency,” Williams said. “Everything that we have been doing in practice, how practices lead into the games, shootarounds, our warmups before the game, that’s the biggest thing.”

“Everything we have done over the last four games has been in the works. That’s been the formula, that’s what we have to stick to.”

Kruger and his staff are noticing the team building habits on the practice floor and in their recent winning streak that has helped them make noticeable strides that are resulting in wins. 

“Shooting 50% in the second half showed that they recognized what was going on in the first half, how things were being guarded and how they needed to do things differently to adjust,” Kruger said. “They’re taking that ownership on their own and making those adjustments.” 

In his first season as a head coach and with 10 new players on the roster, Kruger didn’t want to look too far ahead in establishing specific expectations on certain dates to determine UNLV’s progress this season. 

Instead, Kruger has taken a game-by-game approach as the team has learned to play together and battle through some adversity. At 8-5 at the end of non-conference play, Kruger said he is proud of the strides his team has made in their first season together. 

“Overall, through the non-conference, this has gone really well,” Kruger said. “They’ve done a really good job of putting themselves in a position to get better, and a good position to start Mountain West play.”

UNLV will take a nine day break before it returns on Jan. 1 to host San Diego State in the Mountain West conference opener. The game will be broadcast nationally on CBS at 1 p.m. Free student tickets will be available Dec. 26 to be claimed on UNLVTickets.com.

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