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FSM Essential Recap: UNLV vs San Diego State – Game 14

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (11-3 / 0-2)  | San Diego State Aztecs (11-3 / 2-0)

Franchise Sports Media

 

The Runnin’ Rebels have now lost three of their last four games after falling to San Diego State 76-67

 

UNLV vs San Diego State
Photo Credit: Trisha LaCoste/Franchise Sports Media

UNLV players beforehand told reporters that this game was “huge” as they tried to avoid a second straight loss. Especially after David Muoka commented on San Diego State, “They’ve been running the conference for 20 years.” In addition, UNLV got killed on the glass against SJSU. It’s been a problem for this team all year, and the Rebels needed to find some answers.

An hour before tip-off, Victor Iwuakor was working on his three-point shot. The Rebels needed help protecting the boards, and SDSU could play a true power forward and center. Despite that, Kevin Kruger told reporters at practice that playing a second big isn’t the answer, which is a bit head-scratching as it could be worth a shot.

The starting lineup for UNLV vs. San Diego State was Keshon Gilbert, Justin Webster, E.J. Harkless, Luis Rodriguez, and Muoka.

The Rebels may struggle with defensive rebounding, but their offensive rebounding completely flips the script. They top the Mountain West in that category, and Muoka proved just that on a tip-in off Harkless’ missed layup. Muoka kept working on the offensive glass, and his efforts led to a three for Webster, which continued their NCAA record 1,175 straight games with a made 3-pointer.

At the first media timeout, UNLV had played decent enough basketball to have a lead at 11-10 with 14:34 left in the first half. Rodriguez didn’t have a good game last time out, but he made sure that this one was a different story, as he hit a contested three and facilitated for Webster to get another three.

Harkless’ woes seemed to carry over from the last game as he got scored on at the defensive end and caused a turnover for Jackie Johnson III as Harkless cut to the basket unexpectedly. Harkless was also 0-4 overall and 0-2 from three.

Darrion Trammell had it going early, though, as he rose above a Rebel defender and sank a contested three. Muoka was hot early to counter as he flew up high to catch and finish a lob from Gilbert. However, their efforts weren’t going to matter as they allowed an easy offensive rebound and putback to Aguek Arop, who was left untouched. Trammell kept it going and hit another three to take the lead for San Diego State at 26-23 with 7:07 left in the first.

Matt Bradley got it going as he drained a three in Iwuakor’s face. He was followed by Adam Seiko, who was left alone in the corner for another three, as SDSU took an eight-point lead with less than six minutes remaining.

Harkless and Gilbert continued their struggles, and Kruger opted to swap the two of them numerously throughout the half, making sure that one of them was on the court and hoping one would step up. Like their last game, Harkless drove straight to the rim and finally converted his first bucket on six tries. When in doubt, drive to the rim.

The Rebels hit a low as they gave up another open three, this time to Bradley, and they went down by 14, which was their largest deficit so far in this one.

 

At the end of the first half, the score read San Diego State 44, UNLV 33. SDSU entered this game, shooting 34.7% from three, but they were an exceptional 8-14 from three-point range. UNLV had 11 turnovers on the other end. Gilbert and Harkless were a combined 2/11 overall.

 

UNLV vs San Diego State
Photo Credit: Trisha LaCoste/Franchise Sports Media

It took nearly three minutes for the first field goal to be made by either of the teams, and it was courtesy of Rodriguez for a three over Bradley. To add to that, the UNLV defense was finally doing its job, as they held SDSU scoreless for the first four minutes of the second half. That didn’t last much longer, though, as Jordan McCabe found himself switched onto Bradley; the latter took advantage of the mismatch and rose above McCabe for an easy jumper.

Rodriguez was UNLV’s best player by far, as he hit another triple to cut the SDSU lead to single digits. The Rebels were on a 7-0 run, with five of those points coming from Lu Rod. Muoka, who had recently subbed into the game, was dragged out once more because he had acquired his third foul with 12 minutes left to go. 

Bradley had McCabe guarding him again, but this time McCabe did a great job defending SDSU’s best player but squandered his efforts when he reached and got called for a foul. Trammell got the switch and seemingly dropped Iwuakor. However, upon closer inspection, it seemed that Iwuakor may have injured his right leg. It looked like his leg caved underneath him, and he may have tweaked his knee or ankle.

Webster drilled a three to end SDSU’s 9-0 run, and Rodriguez picked off a pass for a transition dunk to cut the lead back to single digits. Before you knew it, UNLV popped out to a 7-0 run of their own that was capitalized by a transition finish by Harkless, sparked by a rejection from Muoka.

Rodriguez tied his career high in points off a slick baseline jumper, and it was a seven-point game. With four minutes remaining, the score read 61-54. Iwuakor reentered the game after he suffered what looked like a lower right leg injury, but it must’ve been minor because he didn’t look any different.

Rodriguez answered the call time and time again as he popped out from inside the key, all the way to behind the arc for a quick catch and shoot three to cut the lead to six. His efforts, however, were wasted as UNLV couldn’t defend the three ball, and the lead was back up to nine with 1:35 left in the game. 

Kruger’s face said it all, as more misfortune went the Rebels’ way with Rodriguez fouling out because UNLV couldn’t secure the defensive rebound on a missed free throw. This game was over, and the final score read San Diego State 76, UNLV 67. After ten straight wins to start the season, UNLV has now lost three of four, including its first two MWC games.

 

Runnin’ Takeaways

 

UNLV vs San Diego State
Photo Credit: Trisha LaCoste/Franchise Sports Media

Harkless finished with 18 points on 6-19 shooting and 2-10 from three, as well as eight assists. Gilbert was horrendous, with one point from a free throw, while he shot 0-4 overall and 0-3 from three. In addition, he was benched down the stretch. Rodriguez was the star in this one with a career-high 24 points on 4-8 from three, along with six rebounds.

Bradley was unreal in this one, totaling 23 points on 5-10 from three. Trammell followed closely with 21 points on 4-5 from three, six rebounds, and five assists. Arop off the bench was crucial, with 12 points on 6-7 overall, along with five rebounds. 

UNLV didn’t shoot well, totaling 36.7% (22-60) from the field and 27.8%(10-36) from three. They were also outrebounded 36-25. Maybe Kruger should’ve tried deploying two bigs. The Rebels still forced 19 turnovers but coughed the ball up 15 times themselves and gave up 26 points off of them as a result. 

Don’t forget to go out and support the Runnin’ RebelsClick here to get your UNLV Runnin’ Rebels tickets! 

 

The Runnin’ Rebels will now travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to take on New Mexico Saturday, January 7th, at 6:30 pm PT. The game will be available on the CBS Sports Network.

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-Jake Ideguchi-Furukawa – Franchise Sports Media

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