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UNLV looks to bounce back against San Jose State

UNLV basketball coach Kevin Kruger knows it’s all about the results. His team knows it, too.

“They understand that,” he said. “They’re older, they’ve been other places, they accept that responsibility.”

A 10-minute field-goal drought turned a seven-point lead into an eight-point deficit for UNLV against Air Force on Thursday at Clune Arena in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It was too much to overcome in a 69-62 loss.

Kruger pointed to lapses on defense for the drought, but also credited the Falcons’ matchup zone scheme for creating a look his players hadn’t seen. He said the ball got stuck at the top of the key too many times, and once Air Force clogged UNLV’s driving lanes, the Rebels’ kick-out opportunities dried up.

There also were other parts of the game in which the Rebels (10-8, 2-3 Mountain West) didn’t quite measure up. They’ll get a chance to redeem themselves when they host San Jose State (7-9, 0-4) at noon Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center.

UNLV’s bench scored just four points. Its first basket came when junior forward Victor Iwaukor made a free throw with eight minutes left. Conversely, Air Force’s second unit, led by freshman Jeffrey Mills (13 points) and junior Camden Vander Zwaag (eight points), scored 28.

Kruger acknowledged it wasn’t a great night for his bench, but was adamant that the group has been the difference in other games, including Monday’s 81-56 win over San Jose State.

“We just couldn’t get into a rhythm after those 10 minutes until the last five,” Kruger said.

A lineup change might have been the difference. Coming off one of his best games of the season, during which he shot 4 of 7 from 3-point range off the bench, fifth-year guard Michael Nuga started for junior wing Josh Baker, who missed the game with an injury.

Nuga scored three points, went 1 of 4 from the field and grabbed three rebounds, but his energy and shooting were missed on the second unit. Kruger credited Nuga’s play against the Spartans as a reason UNLV never hit an offensive lull.

But Kruger also said the Rebels have to be able to pivot in situations such as Thursday’s, especially in a season in which games are being canceled and rescheduled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That’s part of sports, being ready to adjust or adapt when somebody goes out,” Kruger said.

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

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