UNLV 60, No. 14 Air Force 50
LAS VEGAS (AP)—The UNLV Rebels are playing like a team that has something to prove—that they deserve postseason consideration.
Kevin Kruger had 14 points and a career-high 10 assists, and UNLV held No. 14 Air Force to four points in the final 9:53 to beat the Falcons 60-50 Tuesday night and help the Rebels make a case for an NCAA tournament bid. They have an RPI of 12 and Air Force is at 13.
“We’ve put together a pretty good resume,” said Kruger. “We can’t count our chickens yet. We went out there on every possession like it was the last one.”
The senior went 2-for-11 from the field, but 9-for-9 from the line and had his first career double-double. Joel Anthony added 10 points and nine rebounds for UNLV (23-6, 10-4 Mountain West), which won its 13th straight home game.
“Our guys did very well defensively,” said Lon Kruger, UNLV’s coach and Kevin’s father. “Both teams made buckets hard to come by. The defenses had control and dictated both ends.”
Nick Welch had 15 points and nine rebounds for Air Force (23-5, 10-4), which is now tied with UNLV for second in the Mountain West behind No. 21 BYU, which is 10-2 in the conference. Dan Nwaelele added 14 points and eight rebounds.
But Air Force was outrebounded, 44-29.
“To get outrebounded like that goes back to those numbers we talked about. In our losses, we’ve been out-rebounded by that kind of margin,” Air Force coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “Their first two baskets in the second half were scored off the offensive glass.”
The Falcons attempted a school-record 39 3-pointers, but made just 11 to shoot 28 percent.
“We relied too much on the 3-pointer,” Bzdelik said. “Thirty-nine is way too many. That’s a hope and a prayer.”
UNLV built a 43-36 lead on Wink Adams’ three-point play with 14:31 left in the game.
The Falcons drew to 48-46 on Nwaelele’s 3-pointer with 9:49 left, but got no closer as the Rebels went on a 10-1 run to put it away.
The Rebels shot 38 percent from the field, and the Falcons’ 30 percent.
UNLV was 14-for-16 (88 percent) at the foul line, and Air Force was 7-for-9 (78 percent).
The Rebels ended Air Force’s three-game winning streak and beat a ranked team for the second time this season, having also downed then-No. 20 Nevada on Dec. 9.
The Falcons are the highest-ranked team UNLV has beaten in nearly nine years.
Neither team led by more than six points in the first half as the Rebels built a 20-14 advantage with 7:52 before halftime.
After UNLV later led 31-26, the Falcons scored the half’s last four points.
Anthony went 4-for-4 from the field in the half with two blocks. Welch had nine points with five assists in the half.
Air Force travels to TCU on Saturday, where the Falcons will try to stop their road struggles. They are 6-4 away from home, 13-0 at the Air Force Academy in Colorado.
UNLV is off until Feb. 28, when the Rebels play at New Mexico.
“We have eight days to freshen up,” Lon Kruger said. “We will focus on getting healthier.”