UNLV rides Jovan Mooring’s hot hand to win at UNR


Tom R. Smedes / AP

UNLV’s Jovan Mooring shoots a 3-pointer as UNR’s Hallice Cooke defends during the rivalry game in Reno, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018.

Wed, Feb 7, 2018 (11:35 p.m.)

On the court, Jovan Mooring has a short memory. UNLV's senior guard can forget a missed shot the second it bounces off the rim and fire away with complete confidence the next time down the floor.

When it comes to losing, however — particularly UNLV's two blowout losses at the hands of UNR last year — he remembers everything. He remembers how the Wolf Pack made a show out of beating a down-on-its-luck UNLV team, 104-77, in Reno 364 days ago. And he can't forget how UNR kept its foot on the pedal in a 36-point rout in Las Vegas a few weeks later.

So it was Mooring's pleasure to score a career-high 31 points to lead UNLV to an 86-78 win over UNR at the Lawlor Events Center on Wednesday, handing the Wolf Pack their first home loss in more than a year.

Asked after the game how personally satisfying it was to beat the in-state rival for the first time, Mooring beamed.

"You were there last year when they ran the score up both times," Mooring said. "It feels good to get one. I'm just happy for our guys."

The Rebels had to show considerable poise down the stretch in order to notch their best win of the year. After Mooring made back-to-back 3-pointers to give UNLV a 65-57 lead with 8:36 to play, UNR responded with a 10-0 run to go ahead 67-65.

Jordan Johnson banked in a floater to tie the game with 6:18 to play, then Mooring hit consecutive mid-range jumpers to spur an 11-0 run that put UNLV ahead 76-67 with 4:05 to play. A minute later, UNR went on an 8-0 run to tie the game at 78-78 with 2:25 remaining.

That's when UNLV took control. Brandon McCoy, who only played six minutes in the second half due to foul trouble, was sent to the line with the score tied and less than two minutes on the clock. The freshman sank both to put UNLV ahead, 80-78. After a defensive stop, Mooring canned another jumper to push the lead to 82-78.

McCoy and Mooring each made two more free throws in the final minute, and when the final buzzer sounded, the Rebels had scored the game's final eight points to knock UNR out of first place (20-5, 9-2 MWC).

Mooring made 11-of-20 shots from the field and connected on 6-of-12 from the 3-point line, but it was the degree of difficulty that made his performance so remarkable. Most of his makes came with a UNR defender in his face, and twice he pump-faked defenders into fouling as he buried long shots.

Mooring played 39 minutes on the night and scored 17 of his 31 in the second half.

"I'm always confident," Mooring said of his hot shooting. "Sometimes I'm probably a little too confident, but I'm always going to play that way. It was just a good night."

Head coach Marvin Menzies has spent much of the season trying to convince his players — many of whom are new to the Mountain West — just how competitive the league is, and just how hard they have to play in order to beat teams like UNR. So before the game, he tasked Mooring with delivering that message.

Drawing on his memories from last year's defeats, Mooring told his teammates what was in store for them inside the sold-out arena.

"I met with all the guys before the game and just let them know this is going to be a battle," Mooring said. "Coach has been on me about making sure everyone is on the same page going into this game. We did a great job of responding."

Mooring set the tone with maniacal effort on defense. He drew a charge and hit the floor for loose balls with regularity, saving at least a couple of possessions for UNLV. Junior forward Shakur Juiston followed suit, posting 19 points and 12 rebounds. Johnson finished with 11 points and seven assists.

"The effort we displayed tonight was probably our best all year," Mooring said. "We have to continue to build on this."

The Rebels got a break before tip-off, when it was announced that UNR leading scorer Caleb Martin would be inactive due to a foot injury. Martin, a 6-foot-7 swingman, is averaging 19.8 points per game and is a 46.9 percent 3-point shooter, so much of UNLV's defensive game plan was focused on him.

Instead, Menzies changed things up on the fly and trusted his players to make it work.

"We had a lot of different coverages that we had planned that we had to kind of alter at the last moment," Menzies said. "And I thought the guys did a good job adjusting at late notice."

UNR came into the game shooting 40.5 percent from 3-point range as a team, which ranked 20th in the nation. But UNLV held the Wolf Pack to 8-of-28 from long distance (28.6 percent).

After staring down UNR and improving to 17-7 on the season (6-5 MWC), Mooring said that this game could be a turning point for the Rebels.

And he wants his teammates to remember what it took in order to win it.

"It means that we can play with anyone in this league," Mooring said. "A lot of guys think we're underdogs sometimes when we play these type of teams, but it's even keel to me. I don't think anyone's better than us, and that's how we're going to approach every game."

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

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