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UNLV prepares for ‘really tough’ road test against ranked foe

Most college basketball teams wouldn’t want a week of rest during a three-game winning streak.

UNLV isn’t like them. Coach Kevin Kruger said the Rebels’ recent time off came “at a good time” in their schedule.

The seven-day break gave the team extra time to prepare for the second half of Mountain West play, which starts with a challenging assignment. UNLV will play No. 25 New Mexcio at 5 p.m. Saturday in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“New Mexico is a great team. They’re playing really well,” Kruger said. “It’s a little extra time to put them on our guy’s minds and be as ready as possible because The Pit is one of the toughest places to play in the country.”

The Rebels (12-9, 5-4) hope the extra time preparing for the Mountain West’s top offense pays off.

The Lobos (19-4, 7-3) average 84.4 points per game, 15th-most in the country. They also lead the conference in rebounds per game with 39.2.

What makes New Mexico difficult to defend is it has multiple scoring threats. Guards Donovan Dent, Jamal Mashburn Jr. and Jaelen House all average 15.5 points per game or more.

Freshman forward JT Toppin is adding 12.7 points per game. He leads the Mountain West in field goal percentage (64.3 percent) and blocks per game (1.9) and is second in rebounds per game (8.7).

Kruger said a focus for UNLV is limiting the Lobos’ fast-break opportunities.

“You can’t take away everything, but you have to do your best to stop them in transition,” Kruger said. “Limit as many free points as they get. You don’t want to give them too many wide-open, uncontested layups. If you do that, I think you have a chance to check a couple of other things off your list of how to beat them.”

The Rebels did win their last matchup with New Mexico 83-73 at the Thomas & Mack Center on Jan. 9. They’ve also won eight of the last nine meetings dating back to 2019. That includes an 84-77 win at The Pit last season.

“It’ll be a really tough road challenge in New Mexico, but that’s the nature of the Mountain West,” Kruger said. “Every one of them is going to be tough.”

UNLV could get a rotation player back to help its cause Saturday.

Fifth-year guard Justin Webster practiced Thursday after missing the Rebels’ last three games with a left ankle sprain.

Kruger said Webster was “feeling good,” but the team won’t know until closer to the game if he’s available. Webster is averaging 8.7 points per game this season.

“It’s one of those things where we’ll see how (Webster) reacts and go accordingly,” Kruger said. “It’s kind of a day-by-day basis at this point.”

The Lobos are in a four-way tie for first in the Mountain West standings at 7-3. UNLV, at 5-4, can get within a game of the top spot with a win.

Kruger said the Rebels “should be playing confidently” as they prepare for the stretch run. They’ve shown they can hang with the best the conference has to offer.

“We’ve done a lot of really good things,” Kruger said. “We’re right in the middle of it and we have an opportunity.”

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on X.

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