March 2, 2022 - 9:48 pm
There was no doubt in fifth-year forward Royce Hamm Jr.’s mind. He was going to play during UNLV’s senior night.
“I wouldn’t miss this opportunity for nothing,” he said. “If I had to do anything, get with the trainers, get extra rehab, get extra shots up, and get what I had to do to get ready to play.”
While going for a rebound at practice Tuesday, Hamm took a fall and had to leave the court, making his status for Wednesday’s game against Wyoming questionable.
But any doubts about his fitness were cleared up quickly, as Hamm’s performance at both ends of the floor propelled the Rebels to a 64-57 win against Wyoming at the Thomas & Mack Center Wednesday.
The result also allows UNLV to keep control of the No. 5 seed in the Mountain West Tournament heading into the final game of the regular season.
“As time goes on, you’re not going to remember a lot about senior night, or everything, but you’ll remember the result,” UNLV coach Kevin Kruger said. “I just couldn’t be more happy for them that they get to remember … senior night was a win.”
Both teams began the game by establishing their post players. Hamm scored eight of UNLV’s first 10 points, including two 3-pointers, while Wyoming pounded the ball into the paint through sophomore Graham Ike to score the Cowboys’ first seven points.
UNLV’s defense woke up quickly though. The forward rotation of Hamm and juniors Victor Iwuakor, David Muoka and Donovan Williams were solid when isolated on Ike. Wyoming sunk into a seven-minute drought without scoring from the field. Ike’s early foul trouble also stunted the Cowboys’ offense.
“We just focused on making him finish over us, not around,” Hamm said. “If he finished over us and through us, we’d live with those shots.”
The Rebels (18-12, 10-7 Mountain West) weren’t able to take full advantage of Wyoming’s drought. Senior Bryce Hamilton was doubled almost every time he touched the ball and didn’t make a field goal until he hit a floater with 2:28 left in the first half.
Both offenses continued to struggle after halftime, too. Just as UNLV seemed to be fading though, it got a boost from junior Justin Webster off the bench, who scored nine points in the second half.
UNLV’s defense also bailed out the offense again. Wyoming went on another long scoring drought with six minutes to play. Then, Webster slammed the door. The junior rescue a poor possession with a long step-back two in the right corner and came up with a steal by ripping the ball from Wyoming guard Drake Jeffries with 49 seconds remaining.
“I saw him turn his head and the ball was still on his hip,” Webster said. “I was able to just grab it.”
Hamm led UNLV scorers with 17 points, one off his season-high set in his first game as a Rebel. Webster finished with 11 points, while Hamilton scored 15 to help UNLV outlast Wyoming. Hamm also grabbed 10 rebounds for a double-double.
Wyoming was led by senior Hunter Maldonado’s 22 points, but Ike was held to 14 points on 31.6 percent shooting from the floor for the Cowboys (23-7, 12-5).
UNLV will wrap up its season Saturday when it heads to New Mexico for an 8 p.m. start. The Rebels beat the Lobos 85-56 earlier this season when the teams met Jan. 11.