Video Credit: UNLV Athletics

FSM Essential Recap: UNLV vs Hartford – Game 11

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (6-5)  |  Hartford Hawks (1-8)


Bryce Hamilton and Donovan Williams combine for 65 points as the Runnin’ Rebels run past Hartford 95-78.


UNLV vs Hartford
Photo Credit: Quincy Hatcher/Franchise Sports Media

It’s one thing to recognize a problem or to acknowledge a problem, and it’s even commendable to address a problem. But the real test comes in supplying identifiable solutions to a problem.

First-year UNLV head coach Kevin Kruger and his staff not only did the latter but in true Las Vegas fashion, they doubled down on it and raised their team one, and they followed suit. The result? UNLV won big! Not in point differential, UNLV won 95-78. Mind you, the lowly 1-8 Hartford Hawks of the America East Conference are not by any means the mother lode, and I can assure you that no one will be retiring anytime soon.

It was great to see Rebel basketball players having fun, playing unselfishly, and genuinely enjoying success. Something that this “stubborn” team (as Kruger refers to them) hasn’t done so far this season. This “inexperienced” coaching staff and their “oft-irrational” fan base needed to experience… and it was all done by solving a plaguing problem.


What exactly was the problem, you might ask?


UNLV vs Hartford
Photo Credit: Quincy Hatcher/Franchise Sports Media

There seemed to be an issue with closing out properly on three-point shooters, which the Rebels didn’t do exceptionally well against Hartford, as the Rebels saw the Hawks shoot 13-30 (43.3%) from long distance. The Rebels have been plagued with a lack of any transition offense. They were able to score 13 points in transition despite numerous fumbled opportunities to not only score the proverbial “sure-thing” but also to get the Rebel fans up out of their seats. But the most pressing issue with Kruger’s bunch has been offensive efficiency and, in particular, shot selection.

Kruger made it abundantly clear to his team what he wanted roughly three weeks ago. Assistant coach Tim Buckley abruptly stopped practice and proctored a “Pop Quiz”! Buckley asked the team, “What are coach Kruger’s Four Absolute’s?” After a few seconds of murmured confusion, he followed that up with, “… guys, they were on the board“. After the brief test of anxiety, Buckley stated to them the following:

1. NO FIRST SIDE SHOTS! Jordan McCabe and Josh Baker did a great job of not only securing the basketball (12 assists, three turnovers) but STUBBORNLY insisting on running their offense and moving the ball swiftly from side to side. This resulted in 13 assists on 12 made baskets in the first half!

2. NO SHOOTING IN A CROWD!  Bryce Hamilton and Donovan Williams took it upon themselves to be aggressive early and made extra passes forcing very little, which sent them both to the free-throw line for a combined 21 free-throws!

3. NO MID-RANGE JUMP SHOTS! Many Rebels struggled with this early on but have shown the propensity to adapt and are beginning to understand what is expected of them in the offense. This was the case, particularly for Hamilton, who has had three straight games in which he has been able to generate the type of offense that has given him the reputation as a potent scorer.

4. GET TO THE CORNERS AND FLATTEN THE FLOOR! Throughout the night, you would often see Hamilton, Williams, and Baker with their feet buried into the deepest part of the corners as the ball was being taken out 94-feet away.

All of these things contributed tremendously to the game’s outcomes, and the players (as well as the coaches) have bought into the idea of change. They have all put forth a concerted effort to do what is asked and ask what to do.  Kruger referred to the fact that Hamilton will often express what he sees on the floor to his coach, and he (Kruger) encourages Hamilton’s input. These are all staples of a solid relationship between players and coach.


Hamilton led all scorers with a season-high 33 points and four rebounds, while teammate  Donovan Williams poured in 32 points, six rebounds, and three assists off the bench.


UNLV vs Hartford
Photo Credit: Quincy Hatcher/Franchise Sports Media

Jordan McCabe flirted with a double-double dishing out 11 assists (1 turnover) and 8 points to go along with his four steals. Josh Baker played a level-headed 30+ minutes to score 9 points and shoot 6-6 from the free-throw line.

Kruger said, “I just give all the credit to them. We’ve talked about it in the film, and they’ve taken an approach of, ‘This isn’t what we wanna look like“. He added, “We didn’t shoot it well early on, and they took it on their shoulders that we’ve got to get better shots. We’ve gotta do things better.

Kruger reiterated, “When THEY ask to watch film with a coach; and THEY ask a question about this shot in this situation versus that shot. That’s when we’ve got something, and I think they’ve really started to do that! They’re competing like crazy! They’re playing hard, and they’re doing it every day in practice, everything we ask them to do. So it just goes back to taking a little more ownership, and I think all of the progress they’ve made with their shot selections and the percentages that have increased over the last couple of games is just from them being stubborn. I keep going back to it, but they’re just being stubborn about getting good shots for each other, and when they do that, I think they’re a pretty talented group“.

The Rebels have also had issues with rebounding on the offensive end and could pull down ten offensive boards, despite shooting 51.9% from the field. The Rebels outrebounded Hartford 34-30. The Hawks had four players score in double figures, and their starters scored 72 of their 78 points, while UNLV’s bench outscored Hartford’s bench 34-6.

The following are in-game tidbits that may or may not appear in the boxscore.


After 1,140 games, the three-point streak is thriving. This game’s “STREAKER” is Bryce Hamilton. Hamilton knocked down a three-pointer early in the game and quickly set the tone to the Hartford faithful what the assignment would be.

Tonight’s “SWAGG-BAGG” goes to Donovan Williams. His ability to get into the tiniest creases and make plays for himself may often remind Rebel fans of the “Plastic Man” himself, defensive genius Stacey Augmon.  

Josh Baker is this game’s “LAS VEGAS HUSTLA.” He logged the most minutes of any Rebel, playing 32:43. Baker had 9 points, one assist, and a steal while shooting 6-6 from the free-throw line.  Baker was on the floor, often on the defensive end and in the paint constantly via straight-line drives, which has proven to be the lifeblood of this offense.

Don’t forget to go out and support the Runnin’ Rebels! Click here to get your UNLV Runnin’ Rebels tickets! 


The Rebels will return to their natural home, the Thomas & mack Center, next Wednesday, December 15th, against the University of Omaha at 7:00 PM.

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-Che Jones – Franchise Sports Media

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