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Air Force beats UNLV for best start in academy history

Jan 6, 2007 - 11:57 PM COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (Ticker) -- Dan Nwaelele finished off UNLV and gave No. 16 Air Force the best start in academy history.

Nwaelele scored 13 points, including a pair of key buckets down the stretch, as the Falcons extended a pair of long winning streaks with a hard-fought 56-50 Mountain West Conference victory over the Runnin' Rebels.

Matt McCraw and Nick Welch also scored 13 points each for Air Force (15-1, 2-0 MWC), which is 15-1 for the first time in the history of the program.

"We're not one-dimensional," Air Force coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "If people take away one, then we can hurt them with another."

The Falcons have won 11 straight games overall and 24 in a row at the Clune Center. They also stopped a 10-game streak by the Runnin' Rebels (14-3, 1-1), which never found the range from outside.

"I think we've created a monster," Bzdelik said. "UNLV is a heck of a team,. They've won 10 in a row. It's not going to be pretty, but we have to find ways to win."

Nwaelele's bucket with 6:35 to play gave Air Force the lead for good at 45-43 and began a closing 13-7 surge.

Four Falcons split a pair of free throws to push the advantage to four points before Nwaelele buried a 3-pointer from the left wing for a 52-45 advantage with 3:10 left.

Coach's son Kevin Kruger, who had missed his first seven 3-pointers, drained one to make it a four-point game again. But UNLV got no closer, and a driving layup by Welch sealed it at 54-48 with 18 seconds remaining.

"They do a lot of things well," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "Three-point shooting is just one of them. They are also very good at dribble penetration."

The game was a matchup of former NBA coaches who have returned to college to revitalize programs. Bzdelik has transformed Air Force into one of the country's top mid-major schools while Lon Kruger has UNLV on pace for its best season in his three years.

Wendell White had 20 points and 12 rebounds for the Runnin' Rebels, who made just one 3-pointer in 18 attempts but extended their streak of games with at least one shot from the arc to 648, every contest since the shot was added to the college game in 1986.

"We've got to shoot better," said Lon Kruger, whose club shot just 36 percent (20-of-56) overall. "Air Force is a very good defensive team, but we weren't able to convert the opportunities we were given. Obviously, the missed threes hurt."

Air Force has won three in a row and five of six in the series against UNLV, which still holds a 17-7 all-time edge and has a chance to get even at home on February 20.

McCraw scored 10 points in the first half, when the Falcons shot 60 percent (12-of-20) and opened a 27-22 lead. White had a dunk to highlight a 7-0 spurt that gave the Rebels a 29-27 edge.

White's steal and dunk gave UNLV its last lead at 34-32 before Air Force put together a 7-0 burst capped by Nwaelele's jumper with 11:27 remaining.