UNLV Rebels Upset No. 21 New Mexico with Strong Second Half Performance
- World Soccer Today -
It seems that the number 21 holds significance for the UNLV Rebels. They recently defeated the No. 21 ranked team, New Mexico, with a score of 84-77 in a sold-out match at The Pit in Albuquerque. Additionally, in November, they also defeated another team ranked at number 21, Dayton, at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The most important outcome of the UNLV's match on Saturday was that they won their first game in the Mountain West conference and avoided a losing streak at the start of the conference play.
UNLV's coach Kevin Kruger stated that it was a fun game, especially when they emerged victorious. The win was a result of the team's early success factors, such as sophomore player Keshon Gilbert who improved his performance to score 14 points, fifth-year guard EJ Harkless who had a strong second half and scored 25 points, and the contributions of role players Jordan McCabe and David Muoka during key moments of the game.
Coach Kevin Kruger believes that senior center David Muoka embodies the qualities of a great teammate. He does the necessary tasks such as rebounding, blocking shots, and does not focus on scoring. Muoka was particularly effective for the UNLV Rebels (12-3, 1-2 Mountain West) during the final moments of the game against the New Mexico Lobos (14-2, 2-2).
UNLV's forward Victor Iwuakor, who is usually relied on to finish games, had difficulty with New Mexico's forward Morris Udeze and fouled out of the game with three minutes left.
David Muoka proved to be more effective in the match-up against New Mexico. The senior center contributed to the game with 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, and did not have any turnovers, along with scoring 11 points. His height advantage over Udeze (6 feet 10 inches vs. 6-8) allowed him to take shots from closer to the restricted area, and he was efficient with 4 out of 6 shots made. Coach Kevin Kruger stated that David Muoka does not usually ask for the ball, but in this game, he demanded it, made plays, and motivated his teammates from the bench, which made him an added weapon for the team.
UNLV's defense improved in the second half, particularly in their match against the New Mexico Lobos. The team limited the Lobos to 34.3% field goal shooting after the break (2-for-11 on 3-pointers) and forced 16 turnovers, which they converted into 21 points. Despite the strong performance by New Mexico's backcourt players Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn Jr. who scored 31 points together, both were limited in playing time due to fouls. House struggled in the second half, scoring no points in 0-of-7 shooting.
The senior player had a strong performance against UNLV last season, scoring 27 points in the penultimate regular-season game. Coach Kevin Kruger praised the team's defense strategy of aggressive switching, noting that the players did a good job in making the shots difficult for the opposing team and keeping their hands up
The final aspect that contributed to UNLV's upset win against New Mexico was their offensive efficiency. Unlike their previous loss to San Diego State on Dec. 31, the team had a 55.6% field goal shooting in the second half against New Mexico. EJ Harkless, the fifth-year guard, was particularly effective, shooting 7 out of 11. His most important shot came with 40 seconds left in the game, when he converted a difficult possession into points by making a floater from the right elbow near the free-throw line, maintaining a two-score lead for UNLV. Harkless noted that he gathered the ball, used the step-through technique they practice every day and made a difficult shot.