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Rebels keep rolling, clinch bye in Mountain West tourney — PHOTOS

Updated March 2, 2024 - 10:20 pm

And with victory came reward.

The UNLV men’s basketball team beat San Jose State 68-50 on Saturday night for the Rebels’ ninth win in 10 games.

It was also UNLV’s fourth straight victory, witnessed by 6,404 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

More importantly for the Rebels, it clinched a top-five finish in the Mountain West and a first-round bye in the conference tournament.

What that means: If the Rebels really are going to possibly act the part of NCAA Tournament bid stealer, they now have to win three games in three days instead of four in four. Don’t discount such an important fact.

“It’s great, of course, because you always want to finish as high as you can,” UNLV coach Kevin Kruger said. “This is a league that has been well-respected all year, and we’ve cemented our place in those five spots. I also think this group is just looking at winning the next game and to do what we need to do.

“Bye, no bye, guys are certainly more ready to get back in the gym tomorrow.”

The Rebels (18-10, 11-5) next face a tough stretch against San Diego State at home on Tuesday and at UNR on Saturday.

UNLV is tied with the Aztecs and Wolf Pack at a game out of first place behind Utah State and Boise State.

“We know there is more work to be done,” UNLV senior Luis Rodriguez said. “We have guys who have bought in and are trying to achieve a common goal. It’s just more motivation for us. We’re not satisfied yet.”

It was another strong game for freshman point guard Dedan Thomas Jr., who finished with a team-high 18 points and three assists. Also doing some serious work on the boards for UNLV was senior Keylan Boone. He grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked four shots.

San Jose State (9-21, 2-15) never got going. It shot just 32 percent for the game, including 4-of-21 from 3. It got to within 18-13 before UNLV finished the first half on an 15-5 run to push its advantage to 33-18.

Thinks were pretty much over then.

“We’re figuring games out,” Boone said. “That’s what is most important. We’re coming together as a team to figure things out while the coaches are allowing us to be players. You love to see it. That’s what is getting us over the hump in these games.”

The first half was hardly what you would call a beautiful display of basketball.

UNLV led 13-2 nearly eight minutes into the game. The Spartans made just one of their first 11 shots. The Rebels made 3 of 11.

Three of UNLV’s first four baskets came off broken plays.

Things got somewhat better over the final 10 minutes of the half, the Rebels finding slightly more of an offensive rhythm.

Four players — Thomas, Rodriguez, Kalib Boone and Jackie Johnson — scored all but one of 33 first-half points for the Rebels.

Kalib Boone finished with nine points and joined his twin brother with 12 boards and four blocks.

And yet UNLV also had nine turnovers over the initial 20 minutes and made just 2 of 12 from 3. It finished with 19 turnovers while shooting just 41 percent. The Rebels made 6 of 21 from 3 for the game.

Didn’t matter. Cruised to another win.

“Coach (Tim) Miles’ teams are always going to play incredibly hard in terms of effort and guys who play as hard as they possibly can,” Kruger said of the Spartans this week. “We have to know they’re a prideful group. We have to know it’s going to be a fight from the jump. Every game in this conference is tough. We have to understand that.”

It wasn’t much of a fight this time. Wasn’t much of a game from the jump. Wasn’t that tough a victory to gain.

But don’t discount that first-round bye in the conference tournament. The potential for three games in three days is a whole lot different than four in four.

Night and day different.

Contact Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com. Follow @edgraney on X.

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