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UNLV Rebels Defeat Hofstra Pride, 74-56

Steve Marcus

UNLV Rebels guard Luis Rodriguez (15) tries to steal the ball from Hofstra Pride guard KiJan Robinson (0) during the second half of an NCAA basketball game at the Thomas & Mack Center Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023.

The UNLV basketball team has started working on its New Year’s resolution a little early.

Though the squad sits at a disappointing 5-5 heading into the final two games of nonconference play, head coach Kevin Kruger likes the way the team has played on defense in recent weeks, specifically in wins over Creighton and Hofstra.

According to Kruger, the Scarlet and Gray have been searching for an identity all season, and he now has reason to believe they’ve found it.

His goal for 2024: Win with defense.

“The last couple weeks we’ve done a really good job guarding the ball and keeping it in front,” Kruger said after a Friday afternoon practice at the Thomas & Mack Center. “We’ve really got to become elite at that as we go forward.”

UNLV should be able to steamroll its next two opponents on the defensive end, as they host Carroll College on New Year’s Eve and welcome Bethesda on Jan. 2. The blueprint was laid out in UNLV’s win over Creighton on Dec. 13; Creighton ranks 17th in offensive efficiency, but UNLV held the No. 8 Bluejays to 40.0% shooting in a 79-64 victory.

Kruger’s crew put together another strong defensive effort in their next game but lost to Saint Mary’s in double overtime, 69-67. A 74-56 decision over Hofstra on Dec. 21 convinced Kruger once and for all that the Scarlet and Gray have the personnel to be successful with a defense-first approach.

“The light switch seemed to go on and we became a really good team in terms of keeping the ball in front and forcing tougher shots,” Kruger said. “It became contagious, I think. We weren’t over-helping, we were making teams take tough shots and it was really a large reason we were able to get a couple wins before the break.”

After sending players home for the holidays, UNLV resumed practicing on Tuesday. Kruger said he has installed more defense-oriented drills early in practice in an attempt to shift the tone, and the players have responded.

Sunday’s contest will be a good opportunity for the Scarlet and Gray to impose their will on defense. Carroll College plays at a fast pace and shoots 47.3% as a team, but the bottom line is the Fighting Saints are a non-Division I program. UNLV should be able to overwhelm them athletically, put on the clamps and leave the fireworks for midnight.

Bethesda is another non-DI team that competes in the National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association. The Flames probably won’t scorch the nets against UNLV.

With a pair of victories surrounding the new year, the Scarlet and Gray could give themselves some much needed momentum heading into Mountain West play. And more good news is around the corner, as senior forward Jalen Hill nears his return from injury. The senior forward was expected to be an All-Mountain West caliber defender, but after a slow start to the season he is currently on the mend with a broken hand.

Hill hasn’t played since the Nov. 28 game against Akron, but he participated in portions of Friday’s practice and Kruger believes he could be back soon.

With a couple of dominant defensive performances — one to close out 2023 and one to open 2024 — Kruger believes UNLV can get back on track.

“It’s something that has the potential to change our entire year,” Kruger said.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at

Article written by #LasVegasSun