The Runnin' Rebels (5-2) not only bounced back from their 89-75 victory at Arizona, they flat out hammered the defending Big Sky Conference champion Lumberjacks, 93-53, in easily the finest performance of the season and perhaps the Lon Kruger Era of UNLV basketball.
The Rebels, fueled by a pair of 3-pointers by Curtis Terry (9 points, 3-of-4 treys), went on a 26-4 run midway through the first half en route to a 40-17 lead. UNLV, which shot 56.3 percent from the floor for the game and outrebounded the Lumberjacks, 33-27, steadily extended that lead to 32 points, 64-32, early in the second half and never led by fewer than 28 points the rest of the way.
So just who were those guys wearing UNLV uniforms anyway?
"That was obviously forty minutes of our most consistent basketball of the year," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "It was a good win. It was good to see a lot of guys play well."
Kruger juggled his starting lineup for the first time this year other than because of injury. He started senior Gaston Essengue in place of slumping Joel Anthony at center and moved junior swingman Corey Bailey into guard Michael Umeh's starting spot. Umeh has been bothered recently by sore knees.
Essengue responded with arguably his worst game of the season, finishing with just two points and three rebounds in 11 minutes on the floor. But Anthony more than made up for it with seven points and three blocks in 22 minutes.
Guard Wink Adams led UNLV with 16 points and four assists while forward Joe Darger added 13 points (3-of-4 3-pointers) in 13 minutes and guard Wendell White also had 13 points and seven rebounds.
The Runnin' Rebels forced 17 turnovers and had a 24-4 edge in points off turnovers.
"I think we learned a lot from the Arizona ballgame," Kruger said. "I think we felt good about the first 15 minutes (when UNLV led the Wildcats, 33-29). We talked about the significance of every possession. … I thought our defensive awareness was good."
The blowout was unexpected to say the least.
NAU (3-4) had beaten Arizona State, 75-71, earlier this year and trailed by just eight points, 48-40, at halftime at Arizona. The L-Jacks return four starters from a team that claimed the regular Big Sky title in 2005-06.
Bailey, starting in place of Umeh, finished with 10 points and was a perfect 4-of-4 from the floor including a pair of 3-pointers. Umeh played six minutes in the first half and didn't attempt a shot.
"I thought Corey responded (to his first start) extremely well and did an excellent job at both ends of the floor," Kruger said. "Michael could have come back in the second half but with the margin there was no need to press it. We'll try and guard Michael's minutes here for a while as long as he can go. Hopefully in the meantime he can strengthen that muscle that he needs to make (the knee) a little more stable. We'll just try and buy him as much time as possible."
UNLV leaves Sunday morning for a Tuesday night rematch with Hawaii in Honolulu. The Runnin Rebels won the first meeting between the two schools, 73-59, on Nov. 10 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
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