LAS VEGAS, Nevada — UNLV started the game on a 12-0 run.
The Rebels closed the game on a 19-3 run.
And even if the scoreboard suggested the game played between those two bookends of domination was competitive, the reality is the New Mexico Lobos never looked to be on the same level in a lopsided 85-56 UNLV win on Tuesday night inside the Thomas & Mack Center.
“We just have to play tougher. That’s the bottom line,” said Lobos junior guard K.J. Jenkins, who scored a season-high 26 points, including 15 of the Lobos’ first 17.
“We just gotta have that pride and we’ve got to hate to lose. I don’t think that’s us right now. I don’t think losing really hits some guys home, you know? We just got to hate losing.”
The loss drops UNM to 7-9 and 0-3 in the Mountain West as the first team to play three league games. UNLV improved to 9-6 overall and 1-1 in league play, the first Mountain West victory for first-year coach Kevin Kruger.
The loss is the worst for the Lobos since a 36-point loss to Utah State in a designated home game in Lubbock, Texas, on Jan. 8, 2021, when the Lobos were playing the entire 2020-21 season outside the state of New Mexico due to in-state COVID-19 public safety regulations.
Tuesday night, COVID-19 was again a theme heading into the night as first-year Lobos coach Richard Pitino was back in Albuquerque, missing his second consecutive game after testing positive for the virus. And the Rebels were coming off a pause for COVID-19 cases on their roster — as recently as Monday, they said they didn’t know how many players would be available to play.
They all played Tuesday, and none more impressively than Texas transfer Donovan Williams, who scored 29 points on 10-of-12 shooting from the field and seven free throws in the blowout victory.
The stat sheet showed domination throughout for the Rebels.
• Rebounding: UNLV 48, UNM 30
• Offensive rebounds: UNLV 12, UNM 3
• Second chance points: UNV 12, UNM 2
• Assists: UNLV 16; UNM 9
• Points off turnovers: UNLV 22, UNM 11
• Points in the paint: UNLV 44, UNM 20
• Free throws: UNLV 23-29, UNM 11-17
“They jumped out to a 9-0 start, so right off the bat we were behind the 8-ball and playing from behind. That’s hard to do on the road, especially against a team defends pretty well and has the ability to score on the open court,” said acting coach Eric Brown, the former UNLV assistant who for the second game in a row took the place of Pitino on the Lobos bench.
“So, we were playing from behind from the start. We tried to close the gap, but it was too much for us to overcome.”
The Rebels jumped out to a 9-0 start by the time the first media timeout came around and led 12-0 before Jenkins got UNM on the board with a 3-pointer with 14:32 remaining in the opening frame.
UNM’s first seven possessions resulted in 0-for-3 shooting, three turnovers and a pair of missed free throws.
But Jenkins came off the bench on fire — a quick insertion into the game after early foul trouble for starting point guard Jaelen House limited him to just eight minutes in the first half.
Jenkins scored seven consecutive points to cut the UNLV lead to 12-7 and had 15 of UNM’s first 17 points when his 3-pointer with 8:51 remaining cut the Rebels’ lead to 20-17.
UNLV led 40-30 at halftime and by 30 (83-53) late.
There was far too little help around him, and the Lobos were clearly bothered by UNLV’s size advantage all over the court — from guards to the front court, where the Lobos have now lost three centers for the season that they started fall camp with.
UNM tried moving forward Jay Allen-Tovar to center, played two freshmen there and even used walk-on Jordan Arroyo — none with much success down low.
“We’re throwing different guys in there (with) different rotations, especially with that ‘5’,” Brown said. “And we’re going to continue to develop those guys and work with those guys one-on-one. … We need to get that group that can bring value on both ends of the floor. Right now, we’re not finding that.”
GAME CHANGE: UNM learned earlier in the day its Saturday game against San Diego State was postponed due to COVID-19 cases on the Aztecs roster, but got a makeup game in its place.
UNM will now host Boise State at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the Pit.
BOX SCORE: UNLV 85, New Mexico 56
READ MORE: For more notes, analysis and other odds & ends from Tuesday’s game, read the Emptying the Notebook column.