LAS VEGAS — The UC Irvine Anteaters found out why No. 24 UNLV has been ranked all season.
The Runnin' Rebels (4-1) made 10 steals compared to three for the Anteaters (3-5). The Rebels forced 15 turnovers while the Anteaters only could force seven.
UNLV coupled that turnover number with 22 assists and one could see why they led throughout the game and got ahead by as many as 29 points in an 85-57 victory.
"The thing making them good right now is their physical aggressiveness defensively," UC Irvine coach Russell Turner said. "That really bothered us. It bothered us more than I thought.
"They're a better defensive team than an offensive team, and I give their coach credit for building that mentality with a young team. They're good."
Senior guard Daman Starring, who grew up in Las Vegas, had 18 points and Adam Folker added 12 for the Anteaters, who lost by four points or fewer in their first three losses. This was their second straight loss by double digits following a 10-point loss to Pepperdine last Saturday.
Freshman Anthony Bennett and junior Mike Moser scored 19 points apiece to lead the Rebels.
Using tenacious defense, the Rebels held UC Irvine scoreless during a crucial 5 minutes of the second half, long enough to widen their lead to 20 points and take the Anteaters out of the game. UNLV outscored UC Irvine 51-31 in the second half to pull away for the easy win.
Katin Reinhardt added 13 points for the Rebels.
Bennett sat out Monday's practice with a sore back, but practiced Tuesday at full speed, while senior point guard Anthony Marshall sat out with swelling in a knee. Neither looked as if they were bothered at all. Marshall finished with six points and nine assists.
After a relatively quiet first half, with just six points, Bennett had 13 in the second half and scored seven of UNLV's first 17 points in the second half.
UC Irvine scored just 21 points over the final 14:59 of the game – nine from the free throw line.
The Rebels scored the game's first six points and built a 10-point lead on three occasions in the first half. Though the Anteaters closed the gap to 25-22, Carlos Lopez-Sosa's first career 3-pointer helped UNLV extend its lead over the final 5 minutes. Moser scored 11 points and Bennett had six to lead UNLV to a 34-26 halftime lead.
Moser, who was 4 of 13 from the field and had five rebounds, went right after the Anteaters, commanding the ball and using an aggressive approach from the opening tip. His baseline drive for a dunk that put the Rebels up 21-11 with 9:23 remaining in the half was a punctuation to his effort. The Rebels were 12 of 32 (37.5 percent) from the field, including 2 for 9 on 3-pointers, and made 8 of 9 free throws over the first 20 minutes.
UC Irvine entered the week No. 7 in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, but the Rebels had no trouble creating turnovers, forcing the Anteaters to cough up 15. UC Irvine had just 10 assists. Alex Young went into the game leading the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio at 10.33, as he had 31 assists compared to just three giveaways. But against the Rebels, the freshman guard committed four turnovers and had just two assists.