"Nevill and Bryant obviously had their way," Kruger said after Utah 7-foot-1 center Luke Nevill and 6-foot senior guard Johnnie Bryant scored 26 points each in helping lead the Utes (13-8, 4-4) to a 81-73 victory over the Runnin' Rebels (17-5, 6-2) at the Huntsman Center. "They kept doing what they wanted to do."
In the process, the Utes snapped UNLV's five-game winning streak, denied Kruger his 400th career coaching victory and knocked the Rebels out of a first place tie with BYU at the halfway point of Mountain West Conference play.
Utah shot 49.1 percent from the floor while turning the ball over just nine times. The 81 points were the most yielded by the Rebels in a game this season easily surpassing the 74 scored by Northern Arizona on Dec. 5 in Flagstaff.
Bryant scored 16 of his points in the first half as Utah built a 37-35 lead. A lot of his shots came on open looks as the Rebels concentrated their attention on keeping the ball away from Nevill inside.
"We were really focused on going down and kind of doubling Nevill," guard Wink Adams said. "Their offense runs through Johnnie Bryant, and he was able to get a lot of shots off tonight."
With the Rebels forced to come out and guard the perimeter better, the Utes were able to get the ball inside the Nevill easier after intermission. He responded with 18 second half points, including three dunks.
"He played big tonight," 6-7 forward Joe Darger, who gave up six inches and at least 40 pounds while trying to guard Nevill, said. "He's tough to guard in there and their guards did a good job of keeping our guards honest and not letting us get as much help as we'd like in the post. (Nevill) got deep catches … he's hard to stop when he gets that deep."
"Once he gets by the basket there's not much you can do but foul," Adams said. "But he's great free throw shooter, too."
Nevill connected on 4-of-6 from the free throw line but was 11-of-14 from the floor, most of his shots coming within three feet of the basket.
Meanwhile, the Rebels struggled offensively, shooting just 43.3 percent from the floor and connecting on 9-of-24 3-pointers. Adams, who averaged 24.5 points in wins over TCU and New Mexico while earning co-Mountain West Player of the Week honors, didn't score a point until the 17:08 mark of the second half and finished with just 11 points on 3-of-11 shooting.
Still, the Rebels, who trailed by nine points with 3:00 to go, managed to make it interesting down the stretch, closing to within two points, 75-73, on a Curtis Terry drive with 37.6 seconds remaining.
After Luka Drca boosted Utah's lead back to four, Terry missed a 3-pointer that could have cut it to one. Drca then converted two more free throws to make it 79-73 with 21.5 seconds remaining, and Adams followed with another missed 3-point attempt that sealed UNLV's fate.
Kruger said he believed his team will learn from the loss as they head into the second half of MWC play on Saturday against pesky Colorado State at the Thomas & Mack Center.
"We'll bounce back," Kruger said. "It's good to understand that we've got to do things better than we did tonight. We've got to scratch a little harder and fight a little harder and bounce back and play better on Saturday."
Nevill, Bryant too much for Rebels, 81-73
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