FSM Essential Recap: UNLV vs Wyoming – Game 32

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (18-14 / 10-8)  | Wyoming Cowboys (23-7 / 13-5)

Franchise Sports Media


The Rebels’ gritty season comes to an end in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference Tournament at the hands of Wyoming, 59-56.


UNLV vs Wyoming
Photo Credit: TQ/Franchise Sports Media

What a difference a WEEK MAKES?

After a season of many ups and downs and coming off of a season of so much uncertainty the Rebels went from a team of UN-certainty to a team of destiny to a team sent packing in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference Tournament at the hands of a team that Kevin Kruger’s Rebels beat eight days ago on Senior night.

After leading by as much as 13 points at one point in the first half, Jeff Linder’s Cowboys were all over the Rebels and their scoring machine Bryce Hamilton early on. Kruger was trying desperately to get his team into ball screening action that Wyoming was not allowing to happen. Wyoming guards Xavier Dussell, Hunter Maldanado, and Drake Jefferies did an excellent job of either blowing up the Rebel ball screens and/or doubling Hamilton, forcing him to get rid of the ball.

In the past, Hamilton and his Rebel teammates have had tremendous success with the ball screen. For the better part of this season, Hamilton has done a good job of finding his teammates, in particular fellow senior Royce Hamm Jr. Hamm, who finished the night with only 5 points and 7 rebounds, has been one of the main benefactors of the high ball screening action via point guard Jordan McCabe or Hamilton’s zip passes for easy layups.

Unfortunately for the Rebels, Wyoming’s ability to disrupt the ball screen prevented them from getting any contribution from either Hamilton or Hamm. Without the ability to drag Graham Ike or Hunter Thompson (Cowboys post players) out away from the screener and create a defensive shift, the Rebels were facing second and third passes that went deep into the possesions and subsequently got the ball into the hands of players that were either not used to taking such shots, or the shots were taken out of desperation by Hamilton, Hamm, and Donovan Williams.


UNLV vs Wyoming
Photo Credit: Trisha LaCoste/Franchise Sports Media

Once again the Rebels struggled to defend the mammoth of a post player, Ike, as he sat on defenders early and often.

The inside action with Ike forced the Rebels to shift defensively and ultimately the Rebels missed the mark often on some key assignments that cost them such valuable ground that they spent the latter part of the game climbing out of the hole rather than extending or preserving a lead.

Heading into the locker room, the Rebels trailed the Cowboys by 9 points, which was enough to negate the fact that the Rebels outscored Wyoming by 6 points in the second half.  The Cowboys‘ 31-22 was enough to cause concern for the limited amount of UNLV fans in attendance.

The Wyoming fan base traveled to create a true “March Madness” vibe, and the Cowboys were very present in the Thomas & Mack Center, a fact that Brenden Wenzel made abundantly clear when he boasted that the atmosphere felt like “a home game.” Whether that was a testament to the Wyoming fans and their support of their team, or indicative of how the Rebel support failed UNLV Thursday afternoon is up for debate, but none the less it played a huge factor in the energy of the Thomas & Mack Center.


Holding the Mountain West Conference’s leading scorer (Hamilton) to only 2 points at halftime had the Wyoming fans and the Cowboy players themselves feeling very confident coming out of the locker room.


UNLV vs Wyoming
Photo Credit: Trisha LaCoste/Franchise Sports Media

However, whatever was said in the Rebel’s locker room was taken to heart! You can usually tell what was discussed by the type of energy a team comes into the half with in the first few minutes. The Rebels must’ve spoken of being the aggressors….and that they were.

Wyoming did not take their foot off of the gas and continued to up the pressure on both ends of the court. In low-scoring games such as this, the impact of mistakes, blown coverages, turnovers, etc. are loftier and either team can quickly take advantage of mishaps. As both teams had their peaks and valleys, UNLV appeared to cash in more often at the hands of yet another second-half offensive explosion by Hamilton. Hamilton exploded for 20 second-half points to go along with 7 rebounds and 3 assists.

Kruger made a great adjustment by getting Hamilton into space and opting to get away from the ball screening action and utilized a 1-4 low and forced the Cowboys to defend Hamilton 1-on-1, something they (or no other team for that matter) could do. The decision proved to be the right call as Hamilton was finally able to get it going offensively and even opened up some of his teammates. Coupled with the relentless defense by freshman phenom Keshon Gilbert, and rapidly improving man in the middle David Muoka, the Rebels looked poised to make either another amazing comeback or a die trying.

Gilbert spent the better part of the game on the floor diving for loose balls, creating jump balls, as did his teammates. Gilbert was also a huge factor on the defensive boards in the late second half as he secured many rebounds during the Rebel comeback. Hamm was also “leaving it all on the floor” and found ways to contribute after he was limited to a mere mortal on the boards with only 7 rebounds. There would be no flirting with a double-double for him this evening as he was delegated to playing in spurts due in part to foul trouble and the fact that starter Victor Iwuakor was sidelined once again with that nagging shoulder issue. Muoka played Ike well in the post and made some other layups very difficult for the Cowboys despite only scoring 2 points to go along with his 2 huge blocks.


An emotional Kruger said, “Being a former player I could not be more proud to say that I wore the same jersey that these guys wore this year”.


UNLV vs Wyoming
Photo Credit: TQ/Franchise Sports Media

With a little less than 3 minutes left to play Williams made a shot on the baseline and after Gilbert secured a rebound and got the ball in the hands of Hamilton who started the fastbreak, Hamilton dished the ball to Williams for another score which gave the Rebels a 56-52 point. The game looked in hand with 2:11 left to play. Two free throws by Xavier Dussell put the Cowboys’ one-possession closer to Rebels and after a miss by Hamilton with 0:48 Dussell nailed a three-pointer to take a 57-56 lead.

The Rebels had 0:23 seconds on the clock and the ball in Hamilton’s hands, but Wyoming made a decision that proved to be the right one as they doubled Hamilton hard near midcourt and forced him to avoid pressure by dribbling away from the Rebels’ basket and ultimately forced him to reverse the ball out, which led to an extra pass to a wide-open Gilbert who took one dribble and pulled up for a three-pointer in the corner only to see his jumper fall short.

The Rebels fouled Brenden Wenzel who knocked down the freebies and gave his team a 3 point lead. Upon the inbound Hamilton caught the ball and took a couple of dribbles and launched a 45-footer than banked off the glass and just narrowly missed, sealing the Rebels‘ fate and subsequently ending their quest for an NCAA birth.

Despite the disappointment from such a heartbreaking loss UNLV is aware that these are the types of games (or lessons) that build character and define the principles of your program. Rebel point guard Jordan McCabe said, that the pain of such a loss is a learning lesson, “It’s good for us at the end of the day”. The heartbroken McCabe vowed, “We will be better”.

Upon the reality of what may very well be the end of the inaugural season of the Kruger era, many began to immediately wonder if the Rebels were NIT (National Invitation Tournament) bound, or even NIT worthy? However, that is a question that will be answered well after the NCAAs Selection Sunday.

An emotional Kruger said, “Being a former player I could not be more proud to say that I wore the same jersey that these guys wore this year”.  Kruger beamed with pride over the fact that his initial goal was to put a team together that the Alums, the community, and the athletic department could be proud of and he believes they were successful in doing so. “We told them that if we could do that, we’ll be alright…and I think without a doubt we’ve done that“.

Kruger added, “I couldn’t have asked for a better group, to start in year one as a coach. As Royce (Hamm) said they took a risk and I’ll be forever grateful to them for that. They all had a lot of options but they chose to come out here and try it at UNLV.e (Royce) played with a lot of pride. As for Bryce, what can you say? He chose to come back! He had as many options as anybody in the country and he chose to finish it out where he started and I will be forever grateful to him and appreciative of him to give me a chance“.




Perhaps the last preserver of the streak for this season was Donovan Williams. This “STREAKER” hit his three-pointer with 6:17 to go in the 1st half. This late in the game to finally hit a three had a lot to do with the Rebels shooting on 3-17 for the game. Williams’ three-pointer continued the Rebels‘ streak at 1,161 games.

In tonight’s game, the “VEGAS HUSTLA” was Keshon Gilbert. The freshman played aggressive defense on the Cowboy defenders almost every second he was on the court. Gilbert has the chance to be one of the all-time greats for the Rebels. And we look forward to watching him grow as a player over the next few years.



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


The Rebels will now wait patiently to see if they’re selected to participate in any post-season tournaments to continue their season.

UNLV vs Wyoming                                        UNLV vs Wyoming                                 UNLV vs Wyoming                                 UNLV vs Wyoming                                        UNLV vs Wyoming                                 UNLV vs Wyoming                                 UNLV vs Wyoming                                        UNLV vs Wyoming                                 UNLV vs Wyoming                                 UNLV vs Wyoming                                        UNLV vs Wyoming                                 UNLV vs Wyoming                                 UNLV vs Wyoming                                        UNLV vs Wyoming                                 UNLV vs Wyoming                                 UNLV vs Wyoming                                        UNLV vs Wyoming                                                                                                          

-Che Jones – Franchise Sports Media

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