Rebels ride size, strength to road win over Pepperdine

The bigger, stronger, more experienced UNLV men’s basketball team showed up again Friday night at Firestone Fieldhouse in Malibu, California.

And so did its standout freshman point guard.

The Rebels in their first road game of the season relied on their size and physicality to secure an 82-68 victory over Pepperdine. Fifth-year senior big man Kalib Boone came off the bench to score a team-high 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting, while frosh sensation Dedan Thomas Jr. added 17 points and five assists.

Fifth-year senior forward Jalen Hill scored all 15 of his points in the second half.

“I’ve always felt from day one that this is a group, if we can get up good quality looks at the rim, we’re going to win a lot of games,” coach Kevin Kruger told UNLV broadcaster Jon Sandler on the postgame radio show via Learfield.

“This is an older group. They should be elated that they won. This is a tough place to get a win.”

With Thomas orchestrating in transition and in the halfcourt, the Rebels (2-1) utilized their size and strength en route to 50 points in the paint — bullying a rotation for Pepperdine (3-2) that featured three freshmen and three sophomores.

Boone was effective sealing smaller defenders in the low post, using nifty footwork to shed them and finish around the basket.

Hill went to work in the low post as well and attacked single coverage from smaller defenders.

Thomas controlled pace and tempo, picking Pepperdine apart in pick-and-roll actions that freed him for layups and opened passing lanes on the perimeter. The former Liberty standout committed five turnovers in the first half of UNLV’s loss last week to Southern — and hasn’t turned the basketball over in the five halves he’s played since.

Kruger said starting quickly was the priority against Pepperdine, and Thomas’ precision at the point helped the Rebels secure a 40-30 halftime lead.

UNLV also mixed its defensive looks, springing the occasional trap on an unsuspecting ballhandlers and forcing 17 turnovers it converted into 18 points.

Some second-half sloppiness helped the Waves pull within six points, but Thomas helped settle the Rebels in the final 10 minutes.

“Because of how hard the guys worked in the first half, I thought we did a good job of wearing them down a little bit, and they had some looks they didn’t make because they were a little tired,” Kruger said.

“Our trap in the backcourt was elite. Did a great job there of mixing up the tempo.”

The Rebels remain on the road for their next two games in the Sunshine Slam in Daytona, Florida. They’ll play Florida State on Monday and either Colorado or Richmond on Tuesday.

Kruger said he planned to watch film of the Seminoles when UNLV returned to its team hotel Friday night.

“As soon as we turn on that film … we’ve got to understand that we’ve got a job to do,” he added. “That’s just kind of the nature of this trip.”

Junior wing Michael Ajayi scored a game-high 31 for Pepperdine.

Contact Sam Gordon at Follow @BySamGordon on X.

Original News Source Link – LVRJ

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