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After two rough games, UNLV tops No. 15 New Mexico

The SportsXchange

LAS VEGAS -- It wasn't a pleasant week to be a UNLV basketball player in Sin City ... until Saturday night, that is.

Picked to battle for the Mountain West Conference title, the Runnin' Rebels suffered embarrassing back-to-back road losses at Boise State and Fresno State to fall to 4-4 in league play.

The sports talk shows, text messages and letters to the editor figure to be a whole lot nicer for UNLV players and coaches following a convincing, wire-to-wire 64-55 win over the Mountain West leader, No. 15 New Mexico, on Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Freshman forward Anthony Bennett scored 17 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked three shots, and guards Bruce Dejean-Jones and Katin Reinhardt added 16 points apiece to lead the Rebels (18-6, 5-4).

By snapping its two-game losing streak, UNLV moved into a tie for fourth place with Air Force in the Mountain West.

Sophomore center Alex Kirk had 17 points and 16 rebounds for New Mexico. The Lobos (20-4, 7-2) remain a half-game ahead of idle Colorado State in first place in the Mountain West.

"Safe to say the last seven days weren't the highlight of the season for us," UNLV coach Dave Rice said. "Certainly it was a very tough week, a very tough game at Fresno State on Wednesday. We talked about learning from it, (and) all we can do is move forward. And we did that. We beat a very, very good basketball team tonight."

Dejean-Jones said, "I believe it's the best we played as a team so far. Guys were tired of losing. Everybody just came together and said we wanted to improve as a team. We took (that attitude) into practice, and I think that it showed."

Bennett had five dunks en route to his ninth double-double of the season, the final one giving UNLV its largest lead of the game, 53-37, with 8:58 remaining. The Lobos, who defeated the Rebels 65-60 in the first meeting at The Pit in Albuquerque on Jan. 9, never got any closer than seven points the rest of the way.

"Losing isn't fun, especially if it's against Boise State or Fresno State," Bennett said. "We just went out there and practiced and practiced hard and listened to what the coaches had to say and came together."

The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for New Mexico, which has now dropped seven of the past eight regular-season games against UNLV at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The Lobos shot just 33.9 percent from the field and drew head coach Steve Alford's ire for settling for too many 3-pointers. New Mexico finished 4-for-22 from beyond the arc (18.2 percent).

"Our effort was good, but we didn't show a whole lot of poise," Alford said. "That's not who we are, and we allowed their pressure to get us out of character."

Spurred on by a near-sellout crowd of 17,738, UNLV looked nothing like the team that seemed to go through the motions in a 64-55 loss at Fresno State three nights earlier, jumping out to a 24-10 lead in the first 12 minutes behind the shooting of Dejean-Jones.

Dejean-Jones, who had lost his starting job for four games earlier in Mountain West play because of his shot selection and poor shooting, scored 13 points during the spurt, including three 3-pointers.

New Mexico, which had 10 turnovers in the first half, closed to within 31-23 on a Hugh Greenwood steal and layup with 2:23 remaining before the break. However, the Rebels went into the locker room with a 37-23 lead after Reinhardt nailed a pair of 3-pointers.

NOTES: There were eight NBA scouts at the contest, with UNLV 6-foot-8 freshman forward Bennett the center of attention. Bennett, the Mountain West scoring leader, is projected to be a high lottery pick by many draft publications should he come out, as expected. ... UNLV extended its winning streak at the Thomas & Mack Center to 11 games, dating back to an 83-79 loss to Oregon on Nov. 23. ... Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, the 2012 National League Rookie of the Year, sat in the first row behind the UNLV bench. Harper is a Las Vegas High product.

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