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Guard goes for 33, leads Rebels past short-handed Cowboys

Updated February 9, 2023 - 6:47 am

Nothing epitomized fifth-year guard EJ Harkless’ hot hand than a brief moment in the second half of UNLV’s 69-59 win Wednesday against Wyoming. He simply wasn’t going to miss.

After coming up with a loose ball, Harkless dashed up the court to lead a fast break with 15:56 remaining. He pulled up at the top of the arc as Wyoming defenders backpedaled around him in transition and let a 3-pointer fly.

The shot bounced off the front of the rim and ricocheted perfectly off the backboard before the ball settled gently into the net.

It was Harkless’ fifth 3 of the night, a season high, capping a 9-0 run that propelled the Rebels (16-8, 5-7 Mountain West) past the short-handed Cowboys (7-16, 2-9) at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie, Wyoming.

Harkless had 33 points, equaling his career best set this season in an overtime loss to Colorado State.

The Rebels have won four of their past five games, and UNLV has beaten Wyoming in seven of their past nine meetings.

Wyoming was depleted before tipoff. Already missing All-Mountain West honoree Graham Ike for the season, the Cowboys were also without starting guard Noah Reynolds, who suffered a season-ending concussion in Wyoming’s most recent game. He was averaging 14.1 points per game and scored a team-best 23 points when the Rebels beat the Cowboys 86-72 on Jan. 24.

Reynolds and Ike were joined on Wyoming’s inactive list by a trio of Pac-12 transfers. The Cowboys announced former Southern California guard Ethan Anderson, former USC forward Max Agbonkpolo and former UCLA guard Jake Kyman all departed the program Tuesday.

The Rebels, meanwhile, got a boost from the return of fifth-year guard Jordan McCabe, who re-entered the rotation after missing two games with back flare-ups.

UNLV didn’t do a good job taking advantage of Wyoming’s skeleton crew early. The Rebels settled for 3s early in the shot clock, and they trailed 10-6 near the 14-minute mark.

Senior Justin Webster converted a four-point play to restore UNLV’s lead, but the Cowboys’ first 3-pointer of the game, courtesy of senior Hunter Maldonado, with 11 minutes remaining in the first half tied the game at 13.

The Rebels’ offense struggled for a majority of the first half. They shot just 25 percent from the field and went more than six minutes without a field goal late in the half. UNLV was also outscored 14-4 in the paint. Sophomore Keshon Gilbert made the Rebels’ first layup with 1:39 remaining before halftime.

UNLV took a 25-24 lead into halftime because of its 3-point shooting. Despite struggling from the floor, the Rebels were 6-for-18 from beyond the arc before the break to Wyoming’s 2-for-12. Harkless was responsible for half of them, making three 3s for the first time since Nov. 18.

The Rebels started the second half slow on offense, too. Maldonado helped the Cowboys quickly retake the lead, but Harkless hit another 3 to keep UNLV close. McCabe hit a 3 on the Rebels’ next possession, then Harkless rattled his 3 off the rim and backboard.

The quick barrage allowed the Rebels to separate, and Harkless stayed hot. He had 24 points in the second half and went 8 of 12 from the floor for the game.

Senior David Muoka also contibuted three points and three rebounds to finish plus-16 in 18 minutes, continuing his string of improved performances.

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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