UNLV kept edging closer and closer, throwing a scare into Cincinnati, but never catching the Bearcats.
The Rebels fell behind early, and it set the tone for the rest of the game Saturday, forcing them into catch-up mode.
Cincinnati made enough plays late to hold off the Rebels and win 65-61.
“It always hurts to lose, obviously, especially because sometimes you feel like there were missed opportunities,” Rebels coach Marvin Menzies said. “I think this was one game that was a good opportunity on our schedule. We grew, but we just didn’t blossom. The rose just didn’t come out, but the plant. I’ll take that. We’re moving in the right direction.”
UNLV’s loss allowed Bearcats coach Mick Cronin to leave the Thomas & Mack Center a winner. He was booed by numerous fans in the announced crowd of 9,572 before the game for spurning UNLV’s offer in 2016 to be its coach.
Cincinnati (7-1) has won seven straight after opening the season with a 64-56 loss to Ohio State. The Bearcats have been to eight NCAA Tournaments in a row.
This was a chance for UNLV (4-3) to register a momentum-building victory, especially since the Rebels now head on the road for the first time. They play at Illinois next Saturday.
Amauri Hardy led the Rebels with a career-high 22 points, Kris Clyburn scored 12 and Bryce Hamilton 10.
Keith Williams’ 15 points topped all Cincinnati scorers, and Cane Broome added 14.
The Bearcats led from the start, their defensive pressure overwhelming UNLV at times in forcing the Rebels into eight turnovers in the first 10 minutes. UNLV settled down after that in committing six turnovers over the final 30 minutes, but Cincinnati established 12-point leads three times in the first half.
UNLV never went on a massive run, but the Rebels had a series of short surges in the second half, getting to within a possession three times over the final 3:36. They trailed 59-56 with 1:45 left before Cincinnati pushed its lead back to seven points with 34 seconds remaining.
“It’s a 40-minute game,” Hardy said. “We kept grinding and kept trying to pull out the win. We don’t want to give up. We don’t want to fall into their game plan of pressuring us and making us give up. So I think we great job tonight of continually fighting and for the most part getting it done.”