Utes outgunned by Rebels, end disappointing season

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

LAS VEGAS — Coming into the MWC tournament matchup against UNLV, the Runnin’ Utes knew what they had to do: Stop the Rebel guards. But all the preparation in the world couldn’t stop UNLV’s Kevin Kruger, Wink Adams and Wendell White, who combined for 51 points to propel the Rebels to an 80-54 victory.

The same uninspired, porous defense that has been the Utes’ staple throughout the course of the season showed up once again last night, allowing the Rebels to shoot 53.4 percent from the field and advance to the second round.

“They did a good job of penetrating and we helped off and that gave them open shots,” Utah guard Rick Johns said. “When they had the chance, they hit ’em.”

The Rebels not only dominated the game on the offensive end, but also on defense, forcing the Runnin’ Utes to commit 21 turnovers.

“I don’t think we’ve played a team this year that pressures you for 40 minutes as well as they do,” Utah coach Ray Giacoletti said. “I can’t even think of somebody else that even compares, to be honest with you.”

For the second straight game, the Utes came out of the gates hot, shooting their way to a 20-16 lead midway through the first half. But UNLV’s Kevin Kruger caught fire, hitting for 16 first-half points — including four threes — to help his team build up a 35-25 lead at the break.

“I thought it was a ballgame that early on, Utah kind of had us on our heels a little bit with what they were doing offensively,” UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. “I thought midway in the first half we got a little bit of rhythm defensively.”

The Rebels never lost that momentum, combining a tenacious defensive effort with impeccable shooting aim. Kruger led the team with 21 points and four assists, while Adams and White both pitched in 15.

“I’m not sure anybody would have beat them in our league tonight,” Giacoletti said. “I mean, there’s times when you guard things the wrong way, and then there’s times when you do it the right way. They just hit some tough ones.”

Utah’s sole source of offense and only real bright spot was center Luke Nevill, who led the Utes with 26 points and 10 rebounds.

The usually productive tandem of Shaun Green and Johnnie Bryant struggled from the field throughout, opening the door for long Rebel runs. Bryant finished the game 2-for-14 from the field to score seven points, while Green also finished with seven.

The only senior on the Utah roster, Ricky Johns, was held to two points and, just like the rest of the team, found the Rebel pressure to be too much.

“Yeah, they pressured us on the perimeter, you know, got us out of our sets,” Johns said. “We couldn’t run it fluidly. That’s a credit to their defense. The team struggled tonight.”

The season-ending loss caps off the worst season of Utah basketball since the 1973-74 season, when the Utes went 8-19.

“You find out a lot about yourself during the tough times,” Giacoletti said. “We had an opportunity this year to find out through a number of tough times. I think it shows their character to keep working hard. They’re going to be better for it down the road.”

Kim Peterson

UNLV’s Joel Anthony fouls Luke Nevill on the way to the basket during the first-round MWC Tournament match-up. Nevill’s 26 points and 10 rebounds were not enough to lead the Utes to victory over the Rebels, who took off in the second half to finish the game 80-54.