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‘We can play with anyone’: Rebels roll to 3rd win in row — PHOTOS

Updated February 3, 2024 - 8:14 pm

This is known as a really good scout.

And just being a lot better than the other guys.

UNLV’s basketball team had its way at both ends Saturday against Wyoming, which is why the final was 62-48 before 5,963 at the Thomas &Mack Center.

The Rebels (12-9, 5-4 Mountain West) were beyond prepared for the Cowboys (12-10, 5-4), who shot 34.6 percent for the game and 4-for-25 from 3.

That’s a not-so-hefty 16 percent for one of the better 3-point shooting teams around.

Whatever it did in practice, UNLV translated it to the game in terrific fashion.

It defended well. It only had four turnovers.

Dedan Thomas Jr. finished with 14 points, three rebounds, five assists and four steals for the Rebels. The freshman was just as good on the defensive end as he was running the team.

Keylan Boone added 14 points and a team-best seven rebounds for the Rebels. He also had four assists.

“Coaches did a great job prepping us for the game,” Thomas said. “Just keep the intensity up. In the past, we’ve had a tendency to slow down. Just make adjustments and keep our foot on their necks and try to open up the game.”

Tried and succeeded.

It was 31-23 at halftime because the Rebels defended well enough to the point that Wyoming could barely get the ball inside on most trips. The Cowboys shot just 32 percent over the opening 20 minutes, including 3-for-16 from 3.

UNLV saw nine players gain minutes, and its balanced scoring added to the eight-point advantage. Five players had at least five points, led by Luis Rodriguez’s seven.

An 8-0 run midway through the half allowed the Rebels to take control of things, a spurt highlighted by baskets from four players. Balanced is right.

UNLV then blew the game open with runs of 11-0 and 17-2 to open the second half.

How bad was it for Wyoming? Its first basket after intermission came with 12:39 left in the game.

It was the stuff of folly at times.

“Guys are having fun right now, working and getting ready for games,” Rebels coach Kevin Kruger said this week. “We’ve hit that point in a season — it’s a lot more about the mental side of it and getting a handful of live reps and staying healthy being the most important things right now.”

It’s the first three-game win streak of the season for UNLV against Division I competition.

It also allowed the Rebels to climb into a tie for fifth place in a bunched conference standings, just two games back of Utah State and Boise State and a game behind San Diego State and New Mexico.

“We talk about the number of teams that could get into the NCAA Tournament, but when you do that, people automatically exclude the remaining teams as if they are unable to win games,” Kruger said. “We’re seeing the Mountain West where everybody has a style of play that can win games.

“Most nights, it’s about how you shoot it and take care of the ball. We’ve obviously proven we can play with anyone else in the league. There can be a lot of exciting basketball left.”

The more you win, the more exciting it gets.

The more you defend, the better chance at winning.

The more you defend as UNLV did Saturday, the more you really have a shot.

Great scout, man. Better execution.

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

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