Seventh heaven

If the sign of a good team is being able to find a way to win games when not all of the cylinders are firing smoothly, then Lon Kruger's UNLV's Runnin' Rebels passed a big test on Friday night. Despite shooting a horrendous 33 percent from the floor over the first 30 minutes of action, the Rebels (11-2) found a way to scratch out a 62-58 victory over improving Minnesota (5-8).

Trailing 41-40 with 11:11 remaining, sophomore guard Wink Adams (14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals) keyed a 19-8 spurt over the next seven minutes with a pair of steals and also came up with a big rebound and outlet pass to set up a Kevin Kruger fastbreak layup.

It appeared the Rebels had the game well in hand when senior forward Gaston Essengue sank two free throws to give UNLV a 61-53 lead with 2:22 to go.

But Minnesota, taking advantage of a couple of very questionable offensive foul calls on UNLV guard Wendell White, cut the deficit to three points, 61-58, when guard Lawrence Westbrook crashed into a pair of Rebel defenders and still managed to lay the ball in with 44.7 seconds left.

White then missed an eight-footer, but Westbrook failed to cut the lead to one when he missed a layup. White got the rebound, was fouled and sank one of two free throws to seal the win.

UNLV, which held a surprising 40-37 rebounding edge over the bigger Gophers, won despite shooting just 35.6 percent for the game (21 of 59) including just 4 of 18 from 3-point range. The Rebels also struggled at the free throw line connecting on just 16 of 25 attempts (64.0 percent).

Still, the Rebels will bring a seven-game win streak into their nationally televised game at Texas Tech on Dec. 28. Red Raiders coach Bob Knight could break Dean Smith's Division I career victory total of 879 that night.

"I know the fans get nervous (when the Rebels shoot poorly) and I know my mom gets nervous but I don't we get nervous because we know our staple is defense," senior point guard Kevin Kruger, who finished with 12 points, six assists and three steals, said. "We know that is how we are going to win our games. … Shooting (35.6) percent or shooting 10 percent, it doesn't really matter to us because a win is a win."

"That's a good win," swingman Curtis Terry, who had eight points, four rebounds and a steal off the bench, added. "That's a Big Ten team. They play all the big boys like Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State. We knew they were going to come in here and battle. They've had a rough year so far but they are a good team. They're going to get some wins in the Big Ten."

Essengue finished with a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) and also had three blocks while doing a good job of helping hold Minnesota center Spencer Tollackson to just 13 points.

"Gaston really did a good job," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "He and Joel (Anthony) kind of combined defensively in there. Gaston keeps playing with more and more confidence. I like his energy and I like his focus. He's really into it and battles on every possession."

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