With the way UNLV junior Joe Darger was playing Friday night, he deserved to sit on the bench. That was a reward, though.
Darger earned some relaxation time after helping shoot the Rebels to a big early lead in a runaway 78-55 victory over Kennesaw State at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The opening round of the Duel in the Desert tournament went as planned for UNLV coach Lon Kruger, who was able to sit his starters for long stretches and keep them in shape for the test of three games in three days.
Darger made 3 of 4 3-pointers and scored a game-high 18 points in only 21 minutes.
"Rest is a big factor to keep fresh legs, and hopefully by Sunday's game we won't be worn out," Darger said.
The Rebels (9-3) also should have an easy time against Nicholls State (4-9) in today's second game.
Minnesota blasted the Colonels 77-32 in Friday's first game. Senior forward Dan Coleman led the Gophers (9-1) with 14 points and six rebounds.
UNLV and Minnesota will meet Sunday in the featured game of the tournament, which drew 10,103 fans Friday.
The Owls (2-9) of the Atlantic Sun Conference hung tough early and trailed 22-20 with six minutes left in the half.
A rebound dunk by Corey Bailey sparked the Rebels on an 18-0 run. Freshman guard Troy Cage made two 3-pointers in the last 20 seconds of the half to put UNLV up 43-22.
The Rebels' biggest lead, 61-29, came on sophomore Matt Shaw's dunk with 13:05 left.
"I think we came out a little nonchalant," said Shaw, who finished with 12 points and eight rebounds. "No matter who we play, we've got to come to play every night."
Junior guard Wink Adams made two 3-pointers and had 13 points, five assists and five steals.
"It's good to see Wink and Joe shoot the ball well," Kruger said. "I think our shot selection is improving, and that's important for us."
UNLV had 21 assists on 26 field goals, with sophomore Marcus Lawrence getting seven assists.
Darger shot 6-for-8 and said he's finding a groove after an early-season slump.
In the first six games, Darger shot 17-for-51 (33 percent). He is 29-for-73 (40 percent) in the past six games.
"I've been a shooter all my life," Darger said. "I wasn't hitting shots at the beginning of the year, and they were open shots that I usually hit. It was a little frustrating.
"Sometimes a shooter will miss a couple and get down, but you've got to keep your head up and keep shooting."
Shaw played 20 minutes and helped the Rebels get 31 points from their reserves.
"You can practice all you want, but until you get game-time experience it's not the same feeling," Shaw said. "A lot of guys got minutes and that's definitely going to help us out."
Cage scored six points and junior guard Mareceo Rutledge had five points and nine rebounds.
"It was good to see Troy step in there and knock down a couple 3s," Kruger said. "We need Mo to step up and make shots for us, and I think he will."
Kelvin McConnell came off the bench to lead Kennesaw with 11 points.