The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels 2022-2023 campaign was a rollercoaster of emotions from the highs of winning its first 10 games to the lows of a 7-11 Mountain West Conference record, all to end in an intense final three games of the Rebels season being decided in overtime.
“I still think they should be remembered as a group that competed like crazy. I think every night guys battled, they fought. Down big, made big runs. Had some really good wins. Had some really good road wins,” Head Coach Kevin Kruger said. “I still think at the end of the day once everyone takes a breath, that this is still a group that should be remembered for being incredibly competitive and a group that fights.”
The Rebels started the season making a statement to the nation in its 10-game win streak. In the streak the Rebels defeated the No. 21 ranked University of Dayton Flyers, defeated the Washington State Cougars in the Las Vegas Clash, and won the SoCal Challenge Tournament in San Juan Capistrano, California, defeating the Southern Illinois University Salukis and the University of Minnesota Gophers.
After the Las Vegas Clash win against the Cougars, the Rebels lost its only non-conference game of the year to the University of San Francisco Dons in a close game that ended with a 3-pointer by Tyrell Roberts to give the Dons a 75-73 victory.
The Runnin’ Rebels started shaky after an 11-1 non-conference record to start the season. The Rebels lost by three points to the San Jose State Spartans on Dec. 28 and the San Diego State Aztecs on New Year’s Eve to start conference play 0-2.
The Rebels started 2023 on a high note defeating the ranked No. 21 University of New Mexico Lobos 84-77 to improve its conference record to 1-2 and to be 2-0 against ranked opponents.
After the ranked victory over the Lobos, the Runnin’ Rebels started to slump dropping its next four games against the Boise State Broncos, Colorado State Rams, Utah State Aggies, and the Fresno State Bulldogs. The Rebels dug itself into a hole with a 1-6 conference record entering the last week of January.
UNLV was able to turn January around by defeating an injury-depleted University of Wyoming Cowboys, its rivals the Nevada Wolf Pack at the Thomas & Mack, and the Colorado State Rams on the road to improve its conference record to 4-6. The Rebels were able to recover from the four losses from the middle of the month to finish January with a 4-4 record.
The Runnin’ Rebels had a tough stretch of conference opponents in February losing four of six games. The Rebels also snapped its two-game streak of defeating ranked opponents losing to San Diego State 82-71 on Feb. 11.
The regular season ended with a win and a series sweep against the Nevada Wolf Pack on the road in an overtime thriller without EJ Harkless and Keshon Gilbert playing in after regulation due to Gilbert being ejected and Harkless fouling out.
Even though the Runnin’ Rebels won its season finale and swept the Wolf Pack in the season, the Rebels had to play in the first round of the Mountain West Conference Championship Tournament with a 7-11 conference record.
The first round of the tournament was against the Air Force Falcons and the Runnin’ Rebels defeated the Falcons in overtime 78-70.
The season ended in a close but no-cigar comeback against the Boise State Broncos in the quarter-finals. After being down 50-39 at the half, the Runnin’ Rebels scored 39 points in the second half and a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of regulation by Shane Nowell that sent the game to overtime. The Broncos dominated the Rebels in overtime taking an 87-76 victory.
After a heartbreaking end to the 2022-2023 season, Kruger is confident that the Rebels team has improved from the previous season and will continue improving going into next season.
“I still think we’re better off than we were a year ago at this time,” Kruger said. “We’ll just kind of take that as our starting point going into the spring.”