Shorthanded Rebels turn up the D in 75-66 win

FORT WORTH – What do you do when arguably your two best offensive players can't play because of injuries? If you are the UNLV Runnin' Rebels, you turn to your strength … team defense.

The Runnin' Rebels (16-4, 3-2), despite missing point guard Kevin Kruger (thigh bruise) and Wendell White (sprained ankle), turned up the defensive pressure and forced 23 turnovers en route to a 75-66 victory over TCU (10-7, 2-3) at the Daniel-Meyer Coliseum here on Saturday night.

UNLV held a huge 36-11 edge in points off turnovers which more than helped offset the losses of Kruger and White, who decided during the pre-game walk-thru that he couldn't play as expected.

No problem. Senior guard Michael Umeh, who had scored a grand total of five points in four previous MWC games, scored a game-high 22 points while sophomore guard Wink Adams added 18 points and four steals as UNLV jumped out to a 30-17 first half lead and led by double-digits for most of the game.

"It was a really, really good win," Rebel coach Lon Kruger said. "To go on the road with a couple of your seniors down, and other guys stepping in and playing well. … This group has shown good depth all year."

UNLV also got key performances from junior swingman Curtis Terry (five points, seven assists), sophomore forward Joe Darger (12 points, 3 of 5 treys) and senior center Joel Anthony (six points and six blocks).

True freshman point guard Marcus Lawrence once again came up big on the defensive end with four steals in just 17 minutes.

"We definitely wanted to pressure the ball a little bit, get in the passing lanes," Umeh said. "That has been working for us all season. That was the key for us. I think we really proved that we are a good defensive team tonight."

"Our team identity is our defense," White, who watched the game in street clothes, said. "We did a great job on defense tonight."

White, who is averaging a conference-best 23.8 points per game in MWC play as well as 10.0 rebounds, said he thought he would be able to play going into the morning workout.

"I'll be okay," he said. "I thought I might be able to go but when I went through our walk-thru this morning I couldn't really plant my foot. So I couldn't play."

Kevin Kruger, meanwhile, didn't even make the trip to Texas so that he could focus on rehabbing his injured thigh.

"Felt like it would be a quicker recovery," Lon Kruger said on why his son stayed in Las Vegas. "Right now I'd say Kevin is doubtful (for San Diego State on Tuesday night) and Wendell is probable. But every 24 hours that can change."

The Rebels led by as many 14 points on three different occasions in the first half en route to a 40-29 halftime lead. UNLV forced 13 turnovers in the half and had a 20-2 edge in points off turnovers.

UNLV also shot the ball well in the first 20 minutes, connecting on 7 of its 11 3-pointers. Umeh, who came into the game averaging just 6.0 points per game, scored 14 points including 3 of 4 3-pointers while Adams added 12 points and was a perfect 2 of 2 behind the arc.

"I just wanted to come out tonight, step up and get a win for our team," Umeh said. "We really took care of business as a team tonight. … I knew I had to come out and be aggressive with Kevin being out and Wendell being out."

Umeh, who sat out several games in December due to sore knees which were the result of double knee surgery last February, wore just one knee wrap against the Horned Frogs.

"The knees are feeling really good," Umeh said. "They've been feeling good for a while. I've just got to get back in rhythm. The left knee still has some tendonitis in it but I'm working hard to improve that."

UNLV, which moved into a third place tie with BYU with the victory, returns to action on Tuesday night when its hosts defending Mountain West champion San Diego State (13-6, 2-3), a 56-51 loser at Air Force (18-2, 5-1) on Saturday in Colorado Springs, at 7 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack Center.

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