As expected, UNLV heads into the Christmas break following a loss to No. 3 Kansas. But the Runnin’ Rebels could at least walk out of the Thomas & Mack Center after Thursday night’s 71-53 loss to the Jayhawks with a moral victory.
UNLV, which entered the contest as a 23-point underdog, outscored Kansas, 33-29, in the second half.
The first half? Let’s not go there.
The Jayhawks (11-1), who have won 11 in a row since a season opening 103-99 overtime loss to Indiana in Honolulu, put on a dominating performance while building a 42-20 halftime lead. The second half was a different story, however.
“They were obviously better than us in the second half,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
“We’ve got guys thinking about flights (home for Christmas break), thinking about being home with family,” Kansas senior center Landen Lucas, who grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds to go along with four points, added. “That’s okay but you want to put that off until after the game. I think in the second half, once we got the lead … we didn’t take (UNLV) as seriously as we should have to start the half, and they came back to make it a game.”
Freshman guard Josh Jackson showed why he’ll be a future NBA lottery pick by scoring a game-high 21 points and grabbing nine rebounds to lead the Jayhawks, who led by as many as 24 points before the Runnin’ Rebels got as close as 12 points down the stretch. Junior guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk scored 20 points, including 4-of-6 3-pointers, and senior guard Frank Mason III added 13 points, eight assists and five rebounds for the Jayhawks.
Senior forward Tyrell Green led UNLV (7-6) with 12 points. Sophomore guard Kris Clyburn finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds for his second career double-double while sophomore guard Jalen Poyser added 10 points for the Runnin’ Rebels, who lost for the fourth time in six games.
Jackson had 14 points and five rebounds in the first half despite sitting out the final six minutes with two fouls as Kansas built a 42-20 halftime lead.
“Josh got us off to a good start in the first half and Svi (Mykhailiuk) was out best player in the second half,” Self said. “We’ve got to tighten things up from an intellect standpoint and hopefully play a little smarter.”
The Runnin’ Rebels (7-6) didn’t help themselves with some dreadful shooting in the first 20 minutes, connecting on just 5 of 16 free throws (31 percent) and 1 of 12 3-pointers (8 percent) while also turning the ball over nine times.
“We’ve got to make shots,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said. “The first 10 minutes we got some really good looks but didn’t make them. I don’t think we were being selfish.”
UNLV closed to within 13 points on a 3-pointer by Clyburn with 13:21 left, but Mykhailiuk quickly answered with a 3-pointer to start a 9-2 run by the Jayhawks. The Runnin’ Rebels, thanks to a late 8-0 run, got as close as 12 points before Mykhailiuk scored five straight points, including an open 3-pointer, to seal the win for Kansas.
“We just had a little more fight in the second half than we did in the first,” Green said. “We’re a new team. We’re learning. Playing against (Kansas) was a great learning experience for us to get us ready for conference.”
UNLV, which entered the game shooting free throws at a solid 72 percent, finished just 10 of 24 at the line.
“I just wish we would have shot better from the free throw line,” Menzies said. “It’s one of those mental toughness things. For the season we’ve been shooting over 70 percent. Forty-one percent is just unacceptable.”
The Rebels also finished 5 of 24 from 3-point range while shooting just 34.5 percent from the field. Kansas, meanwhile, shot 44.4 percent, including 7 of 20 from 3-point range, and finished with a 38-20 edge in points in the paint.
UNLV returns to action on Wednesday night when it opens Mountain West Conference play at Colorado State.
Click on graphic below for final stats: