Even on an off night, Delon Wright had enough going on to hold off UNLV, which could not overcome its own shooting woes.
Wright, a senior and one of the top guards in the Pacific-12 Conference, was not at his best Saturday night but still scored 17 points to lift 14th-ranked Utah to a 59-46 victory over the Rebels at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Wright started slowly and finished 5-for-16 from the field, and Brandon Taylor added 16 points for the Utes (8-2).
Freshman guard Rashad Vaughn, UNLV’s leading scorer, was unable to outduel Wright. Vaughn shot 6-for-16 from the field and totaled 16 points and seven rebounds. He made 4 of 7 free throws.
Sophomore forward Chris Wood had eight points and 13 rebounds for the Rebels, who trailed by one at halftime and stayed close until midway through the second half.
“We just didn’t play nearly well enough offensively to beat a good ranked team,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “Our effort on the defensive end was very good.
“This is a very disappointing outcome for us, but it’s a long season and we’ll keep getting better.”
The first game of the MGM Grand Showcase went to the wire, with No. 16 Washington holding on to beat No. 15 Oklahoma 69-67. UNLV, a 9½-point underdog, briefly threatened to pull off a bigger upset in front of a crowd of 9,357 that included a large number of out-of-town fans.
“It was pretty powerful for our players to be on another court and have that type of following,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said.
The Rebels (7-3) committed 15 turnovers, shot 32.7 percent from the field and were a wreck at the free-throw line, hitting only 10 of 23.
The Utes started to take charge when Taylor hit a floater in the lane for a 44-34 lead with 8:20 remaining. Taylor sank an 18-foot jumper to make it 51-38 with six minutes left.
Vaughn’s fast-break layup pulled UNLV within 51-42 with 3:32 to play. But Wright made two free throws as Utah maintained control.
“It was like one of those heavyweight fights that wasn’t really pretty,” Krystkowiak said.
Goodluck Okonoboh blocked five shots in the first half as solid interior defense and strong rebounding helped the Rebels overcome an offensive slump. Jelan Kendrick’s 3-pointer from the corner put UNLV up 21-17 with 3:15 to go.
After disappearing for most of the first half, Wright finished with a flurry. His breakaway layup beat the buzzer and lifted Utah to a 24-23 lead at the break.
The Rebels, 0-3 against Pac-12 opponents this season after previously falling to Stanford and Arizona State, host No. 3 Arizona on Tuesday.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.
Utah 59, UNLV 46
Key: Delon Wright scored 17 points and Brandon Taylor added 16 for the Utes.
Next: UNLV vs. Arizona, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Thomas & Mack Center, CBSSN (333), KWWN (1100 AM, 100.9 FM)