by Ralena Phillips
Saturday afternoon the Runnin’ Rebels defeated the undefeated in the Mountain West Conference, taking down the Aztecs, 66-63, in the Viejas Arena.
The No. 4 ranked Aztecs were the highest-ranked opponent UNLV has defeated on the road since 1991. This was a revenge win for the Rebels after falling just short to the Aztecs at home in late January, 71-67.
The Rebels were led by senior guard Elijah Mitrou-Long who scored 19 points, including two clutch free throws to secure the game with only 11 seconds left to play. Junior guard Amauri Hardy contributed 17 points to the Rebels big win on the road, followed by sophomore guard Bryce Hamilton with his second straight double-double, 11 points and 10 rebounds. This is Hamilton’s fourth double-double this season.
Malachi Flynn led the Aztecs again against the Rebels with 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Flynn’s performance included a 3-point basket to put the Aztecs down by one point with 14.5 seconds left of play after coming back from a 14-point deficit.
UNLV’s great start is what secured the game for them. Collectively the Rebels shot 57.7 percent from the field in the first half, including 6 for 13 from beyond the arc. This gave UNLV a 37-25 advantage at the half.
The Runnin Rebels came out with the same energy to start the half increasing their lead to 14 points. But, the Aztecs didn’t lay down easily and came back to trail by just one point with 14 seconds to go after UNLV failed to score a single field goal in the last 10 minutes of play. The Rebels handed the Aztecs their first loss after Flynn failed to knock down a contested 3-point shot with 3.3 seconds left, and a desperate hail mary for the Aztecs fell short.
“It means a lot… We’re going to cherish this moment but we’re going to move on because we really haven’t done nothing yet” -Elijah Mitrou-Long
UNLV held SDSU to 33.3 percent shooting in the first half, including a horrendous 2 for 12 from beyond the arc. The Aztecs ended with 38.9 percent from the field and 29.6 percent on 3-point attempts. The Rebels took advantage of SDSU’s mistakes scoring 13 points off of the Aztecs 12 turnovers, while the Aztecs scored just six points off of UNLV’s 11 turnovers.
The win is UNLV’s second straight road win after going to 2-8 on the road to start the season. The win also put an end to UNLV’s six-game losing streak against the Aztecs to even out the all-time series between the two schools 37-37. This is a big win in the books for the Runnin’ Rebels this season under new head coach TJ Otzelberger.
“Proud of our coaches, our players and everybody involved. It is a team win so I am excited for them.” – UNLV head coach T.J. Otzelberger
Following the nail-biting contest, sophomore guard Bryce Hamilton was named the Mountain West Men’s Basketball Peak Player of the Week after leading the Runnin’ Rebels to back to back victories, including upsetting No.4 and conference leader San Diego State. Hamilton recorded a pair of double-doubles in this week’s games to earn his second Conference honor this season. Expect to see Hamilton bring home 1st team honors at the conclusion of conference play next week before the Rebels head into the Mountain West Tournament.
Next up, the Rebels head home for their regular-season finale. UNLV takes on Boise State Wednesday, Feb. 26 at 8 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack Center. Boise is in 4th place in Conference standings. UNLV will need to defeat the Broncos if they even want a chance at a top 4 standing heading into the Mountain West Tournament.
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