Rebels shut down Utes, 80-54

On a night when Kevin Kruger connected on four of his first five 3-pointers en route to 21 points and Wendell White and Wink Adams both broke out of shooting slumps to score 15 points each, it was UNLV's defense that had people talking after an 80-54 win over Utah in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Tournament on Thursday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The 26-point margin of victory was a record for a MWC Tournament game.

The Runnin' Rebels (26-5) registered 13 steals, also a MWC Tourney record, and forced 21 turnovers and Utah (11-19) shot just 34.6 percent from the floor despite a big game inside from 7-foot-1 sophomore center Luke Nevill (26 points, 9 of 12 from the floor).

"I don't think we've played a team this year that pressures you for 40 minutes as well as they do," Utah coach Ray Giacoletti said. "I can't even think of anybody else that even compares, to be honest with you."

Utah actually led the Rebels, 20-16, with 9:23 to go in the first half. But UNLV held the Utes to just one field goal – on a rebound basket by Nevill – over the next nine minutes while going on a 15-3 run and went into the locker room at halftime with a 35-25 lead.

"I thought midway in the first half we got a little bit of a rhythm defensively and started converting some turnovers into transition opportunities," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "To be up 10 at the half was a nice run."

Early in the second half the Rebels went on another 13-2 spurt to increase their lead to 18 points, 52-34. All toll, UNLV outscored the Utes, 36-14, over a 16 minute span.

"I think Vegas' pressure just absolutely wore us down throughout the game," Giacoletti said. "We got off to a good start. That was something we needed to do. But the pressure is something that for 40 minutes we did not handle well.

"It's hard to simulate anything like that in practice because it's almost impossible to do. That's a credit to them. Coach Kruger has got these guys bought in at the defensive end. From that, that's their first line of offense, creating easy baskets."

UNLV shot 53.4 percent (31 of 58) from the floor, including 6 of 16 from 3-point range (37.5 percent).

"I think tonight was kind of what happens when our offense is clicking," Kevin Kruger said. "We played defense I think the same way we played the majority of the year, getting up, frustrating our opponent. But tonight the shots were falling more than usual. We were getting good looks for each other, creating for each other."

"Their defense creates easy points for them," Giacoletti said when asked about UNLV's 15-0 edge in fast break points. "It's a credit to them because defense is something you can be solid night in and night out. You're not always going to shoot the ball each night well. But defense is something they've hung their hat on and it's paid off (for) 26 wins this year."

And counting.

The 26 wins are the most for the Runnin' Rebels since the 1991-92 season when they finished 26-2.


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