The UNLV Rebels are angry.
“We are a team that hates losing, so there’s a lot of frustration,” UNLV head coach Kevin Kruger said.
The Rebels lost twice last week, 75-72 in overtime at San Jose State and 76-67 to San Diego State at home. UNLV, losers of three of its last four games, is now 11-3 overall, 0-2 in the Mountain West and No. 6 in this week’s Nevada Appeal Mountain West basketball rankings.
“We need to dust ourselves off and get back at it,” Kruger said.
UNLV’s E.J. Harkless scored 20 points against San Diego State and 18 against San Jose State. Harkless, though, was 1-of-7 on threes against San Jose State, with his last miss coming with seven seconds left in overtime.
“We got a reality check today,” said Harkless after the loss to San Jose State.
The Rebels’ recent slump has coincided with a difficult stretch of games for 6-foot-4 guard Keshon Gilbert. Gilbert, a sophomore, has scored just 20 points on 1-of-11 3-point shooting with 14 turnovers over his last four games. His scoring average has dropped from 15.8 a game over the first 10 games to 12.5. Gilbert was also 17-of-30 on threes over his first 10 games.
The opening week of Mountain West play was tough on Gilbert. He went back home to St. Louis for the Christmas holiday and didn’t return to the team (because of cancelled flights) until last Wednesday, when the Rebels were already at San Jose State. He came off the bench against the Spartans and scored six points on 3-of-13 shooting in 36 minutes. Gilbert returned to the starting lineup three nights later against San Diego State but played just 28 minutes and scored one point, missing all four of his shots and turning the ball over six times.
“We’ve got a huge challenge ahead of us,” Kruger said.
No. 2 San Diego State, which also beat Air Force, 71-55, last week, did turn the ball over a season-high 22 times in its win over UNLV. The Aztecs had 14 turnovers against Air Force.
“There was a lot of fight and compete in our guys,” said Kruger, who was 18-14 last year in his first season as UNLV’s head coach.
Matt Bradley had 27 points and six threes for San Diego State against Air Force and 23 points and five threes against UNLV.
No. 1 New Mexico improved to 14-0, 2-0, after opening its Mountain West schedule with wins over Colorado State (88-69) and Wyoming (76-75).
New Mexico’s Jaelen House had 26 points, five assists and five threes against Colorado State and 16 points, five steals, three blocks, five assists and five rebounds against Wyoming.
Jamal Mashburn had two free throws with 18 seconds to play to beat Wyoming and finish with 20 points. Wyoming missed two shots in the final nine seconds that would have won the game.
This is the second time in New Mexico’s storied basketball history that the Lobos have started a season 14-0. The 1967-68 Lobos started 17-0. New Mexico had just 13 wins all of last year.
“We just had to stay the course,” Lobos coach Richard Pitino said after the narrow victory over Wyoming. “In the first half we were a little out of it. They can’t all be beautiful.”
“We put ourselves in position to win the game,” said Wyoming coach Jeff Linder, whose Cowboys are at the bottom (No. 11) of the Nevada Appeal rankings at 5-9, 0-2. “You don’t want to say it came down to the last play of the game but today (Saturday against New Mexico), in reality, it did.”
Wyoming’s Hunter Maldonado had 15 points and 10 rebounds against New Mexico. Maldonado also had 13 points in a 58-53 loss at Fresno State earlier in the week. No. 10 Fresno State (5-8, 1-1), which also lost to Utah State last week (67-54), led Wyoming 46-28 early in the second half and but saw Wyoming take a 53-51 lead with 96 seconds to play.
“I told our guys, ‘We’re close,’” Linder said. “We just need that little spark.”
No. 3 Utah State (12-2, 1-0) was led by its bench in its win over Fresno State. Reserves Steven Ashworth and Zee Hamoda led the Aggies with 13 points. No Utah State starter scored more than eight points (Max Shulga). The Utah State starters also were a combined 1-of-12 on threes while the bench was 6-of-9. Jemarl Baker led Fresno State with 20 points and also had 20 in the Bulldogs’ win over Wyoming.
The win over Fresno State was Utah State’s first of the year while scoring fewer than 70 points.
“Conference play is tough,” Utah State coach Ryan Odom said. “It’s hard-fought every night out.”
No. 4 Nevada (12-3, 2-0), beat Boise State (74-72) at home and Air Force (75-69) on the road last week. This is the first season Nevada has won at least 12 of its first 15 games since 2018-19, when it opened 14-1, 24-2 and 29-3.
The Wolf Pack never trailed at Air Force but had to rally in the final minutes to beat Boise State. Kenan Blackshear led Nevada with 20 points against Boise State while Jarod Lucas had 28 against Air Force.
Nevada, which is just one victory short of its win total (13) last year, will host Colorado State on Wednesday and play at San Jose State on Saturday.
No. 7 Boise State (10-4, 0-1) got 22 points from Marcus Shaver at Nevada and 20 from Naje Smith.
Boise State, which has lost two games in a row after winning nine straight, lost at Nevada despite a 34-16 edge in points in the paint and shooting 18-of-29 (62 percent) in the second half.
“We’ll respond the right way,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “It’s tough to win on the road in the Mountain West. You have to overcome a lot.”
No. 5 San Jose State (11-4, 2-0), beat UNLV (75-72 in overtime) and Colorado State (78-70) last week. Omari Moore had 44 points in the two games combined. The Spartans led UNLV 58-45 with 12 minutes to play in regulation but had to rally in overtime to claim the victory. Sage Tolbert hit a 3-pointer in overtime for a 72-70 lead.
“To fight back against a team the caliber of UNLV and get over the top and win, that says a lot about the resolve of our players,” San Jose State coach Tim Miles said.
The win over UNLV made the Spartans 1-0 in Mountain West play for the first time since the school joined the Mountain West in 2013. The win at Colorado State is San Jose State’s first on the road in league play since Feb. 11, 2017 (76-74 at UNLV). San Jose State had lost 46 Mountain West road games in a row (and five more in the postseason tournament at Las Vegas) before winning at Colorado State.
No. 9 Colorado State (8-7, 0-2) led UNLV 24-10 before losing. The Rams’ Isaiah Stevens had 34 points and 17 assists in the two losses to New Mexico and UNLV combined.
The Nevada Appeal’s Mountain West men’s basketball rankings for the week of Jan. 2:
1. NEW MEXICO (14-0, 2-0): Last week: New Mexico 88, Colorado State 69 (Wednesday); New Mexico 76, Wyoming 75 (Saturday). This week: New Mexico at Fresno State (Tuesday), UNLV at New Mexico (Saturday).
2. SAN DIEGO STATE (11-3, 2-0): Last week: San Diego State 71, Air Force 55 (Wednesday), San Diego State 76, UNLV 67 (Saturday). This week: San Diego State at Wyoming (Saturday).
3. UTAH STATE (12-2, 1-0): Last week: Utah State 67, Fresno State 54 (Saturday). This week: Utah State at Air Force (Tuesday), Utah State at Boise State (Saturday).
4. NEVADA (12-3, 2-0): Last week: Nevada 74, Boise State 72 (Wednesday); Nevada 75, Air Force 69 (Saturday). This week: Colorado State at Nevada (Wednesday), Nevada at San Jose State (Saturday).
5. SAN JOSE STATE (11-4, 2-0): Last week: San Jose State 75, UNLV 72, OT (Wednesday); San Jose State 78, Colorado State 70 (Saturday). This week: San Jose State at Boise State (Tuesday), Nevada at San Jose State (Saturday).
6. UNLV (11-3, 0-2): Last week: San Jose State 75, UNLV 72, OT (Wednesday); San Diego State 76, UNLV 67 (Saturday). This week: UNLV at New Mexico (Saturday).
7. BOISE STATE (10-4, 0-1): Last week: Nevada 74, Boise State 72 (Wednesday). This week: San Jose State at Boise State (Tuesday), Utah State at Boise State (Saturday).
8. AIR FORCE (9-6, 0-2): Last week: San Diego State 71, Air Force 55; Nevada 75, Air Force 69 (Saturday). This week: Utah State at Air Force (Tuesday).
9. COLORADO STATE (8-7, 0-2): Last week: New Mexico 88, Colorado State 69 (Wednesday); San Jose State 78, Colorado State 70 (Saturday). This week: Colorado State at Nevada (Wednesday), Fresno State at Colorado State (Saturday).
10. FRESNO STATE (5-8, 1-1): Last week: Fresno State 58, Wyoming 53 (Wednesday); Utah State 67, Fresno State 54 (Saturday). This week: New Mexico at Fresno State (Tuesday), Fresno State at Colorado State (Saturday).
11. WYOMING (5-9, 0-2): Last week: Fresno State 58, Wyoming 53 (Wednesday); New Mexico 76, Wyoming 75 (Saturday). This week: San Diego State at Wyoming (Saturday).
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