Rebels wear off the rust, 78-55

This is the reason you schedule a team like Kennesaw State after your Christmas break. The UNLV Runnin' Rebels came out flat in Friday night's opener of the Duel in the Desert tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center and actually found themselves in a tight game with the Owls (2-9) of the Atlantic Sun Conference for the majority of the first half.

Senior forward's Shaun Stegall's 8-foot floater cut UNLV's lead to 22-20 with 6:33 to go in the first half.

Then the Rebels turned up the defense, going on a 33-5 run over the next 9 ½ minutes en route to a ho-hum 78-55 victory.

Junior forward Joe Darger led the way for the Rebels (9-3) with 18 points, including 3 of 4 3-pointers, while senior guard Wink Adams added 13 points, 5 steals and 5 assists in just 21 minutes of action as UNLV head coach Lon Kruger emptied his bench early and often. All 12 Rebels who dressed played at least six minutes in the game.

"A good way to start the three-day weekend," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "I thought guys made a lot of good plays for each other. I think (21) assists out of the 26 buckets is a good number. Guys had good patience and were looking for each other."

The Rebels had 14 steals, including 11 in the first half, and held a 46-35 rebounding edge. Reserves Matt Shaw (12 points, 8 rebounds) and Mo Rutledge (5 points, 9 rebounds) both had big games on the boards.

"A little better job on the boards," Kruger said. "I thought Matt came in and really rebounded the ball well. … It was a good start. We have to try and play better (Saturday) night (against Nicholls State)."

Especially at the start. The Rebels were able to survive a slow beginning against a Kennesaw State and probably could do the same against Nicholls State. But its doubtful UNLV can defeat Minnesota (9-1) in Sunday's finale if they struggle as badly in the first half.

"We weren't sliding our feet too much on defense,' Darger said of the slow start. "During a timeout we talked about it and made a commitment to sliding our feet better. As soon as we did that, we started taking things away, and it led to some easy baskets for us."

UNLV went on an 18-0 spurt to blow the game open (40-20). Freshman guard Troy Cage had a pair of 3-pointers to highlight the late first half run.

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