UNLV reverses fortune against Air Force with 29-point road win

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY
UNLV handed Air Force a 72-43 beatdown in Colorado Springs after being on the receiving end of a 29-point loss to the Falcons at home last month.

Considering UNLV’s 32-point loss to Air Force at the Thomas & Mack Center last month, the only truly fulfilling result for the program in Wednesday’s rematch would have been a blowout of their own. 

Kevin Kruger and his team led by Rob Whaley Jr. executed that plan to perfection for a 72-43 win that will go a long way in helping alleviate the pain from last month’s disastrous loss. 

After a stagnant ending for the offense in Saturday’s loss to Nevada, UNLV’s physicality was far too much for the Falcons this time around. 

It was also an improved effort from coach Kevin Kruger. He was able to utilize his bench ideally and his offense worked well for a change and allowed UNLV to grind the game down with consistent physicality. 

I’ve been among the loudest critics of Kruger’s offense for its lack of fluidity and excessive isolation. However, Wednesday’s game showed that the system can still prove effective when his vision for the team is fully implemented. 

Granted, it came against an Air Force team that shouldn’t have had any answer for them in the first game to begin with.

Despite just eight total assists for UNLV on the game, it was still among their best offensive efforts of the season. It was aided in large part by their physical advantage, which was seemingly completely negated the first time around. 

“It was a lot better”, junior forward Rob Whaley Jr. said after the game. “We can’t be out-rebounded by 20 like we were (against Nevada). The physicality started with us.”

Another bonus was that Kruger was able to evenly distribute the minutes between the team’s top guards on Wednesday, which is something he hasn’t really been able to do this season. 

If the team wants to see any sort of post-season success, they need more consistent contributions from their bench guards. Specifically Justin Webster and Jackie Johnson III. It also gave Thomas Jr. some rest, as he’s been wearing a walking boot off the court as a precautionary measure while nursing some sort of minor ankle injury.

Kruger was able to evenly distribute the minutes between the team’s top guards on Wednesday, which is something he hasn’t really been able to do with much success this season. DJ Thomas logged 25 minutes while Webster and Luis Rodriguez each logged 23. Johnson III and Brooklyn Hicks also played 21 and 17 minutes respectively. 

Whaley Jr. led a balanced scoring effort for the Runnin’ Rebels with 15 points, in large part because he was by far the most physically dominant player on the floor. 

“He’s just getting better,” Kruger said after the game. “Having the ability to throw into the post like we have this year has been a really good thing for us and (Whaley Jr.) is a big piece of that”

The freshman Hicks added a career high 12 points in his 17 minutes off the bench. Keylan Boone also reached double figures for UNLV on an impressive 5-7 shooting from the field. 

UNLV is back at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday night for a crucial conference tilt against No. 22 Colorado State.