Published Friday, Dec. 25, 2009 | 6:29 p.m.
Updated Friday, Dec. 25, 2009 | 9:16 p.m.
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Final, USC wins 67-56
HONOLULU — UNLV was flying through the Diamond Head Classic bracket up until Christmas Day.
Then it hit a maroon and gold wall. USC imposed its defensive will right from go in knocking off the Rebels, 67-56, in Friday's championship game.
Lon Kruger's club now finishes non-conference play at 12-2 and has 11 days off before the start of Mountain West Conference play on Jan. 6 at BYU.
UNLV faced a 14-point halftime deficit after playing much of the first half without Derrick Jasper, who picked up two fouls in the game's first two minutes. The Rebels could never crack the code, and for the afternoon were 17-of-50 from the floor and 5-of-22 from 3-point range.
Junior guard Tre'Von Willis, who against USC was held without a field goal for the first time all season, was named to the all-tournament team. The tournament MVP was USC guard Mike Gerrity, who had 13 points against the Rebels and 17 in each of the Trojans' first two outings.
For full postgame coverage, including stories, photos, video, stats and The Rebel Room: Postgame Edition, stay tuned to lasvegassun.com/rebels.
3:28, second half, USC leads 59-48
HONOLULU — UNLV is finding success in forcing turnovers and bad USC possessions with solid backcourt traps, but they're coming a bit too late, as missed 3-pointers have hurt the Rebels of late.
UNLV trails USC, 59-48, with just over three minutes to go in the Diamond Head Classic title game, and it appears the Rebels will head into their 11-day break before Mountain West Conference play at 12-2.
The Rebels are only 15-of-43 from the floor, 5-of-19 from 3-point range and have turned the ball over 13 times with only eight assists to their credit.
Oscar Bellfield leads UNLV with 15 points, but no one else has scored more than six as it's been a far from fluid night so far for Lon Kruger's club.
Barring a miracle late, this is going to be a tough one for UNLV to head into the break off of.
13:25, second half, USC leads 50-34
HONOLULU — UNLV has toughened up some on the offensive end to start the second half, but the production hasn't made much of a difference on the scoreboard.
Mike Gerrity, Marcus Johnson and Dwight Lewis have each added tough buckets inside to help the Trojans keep the Rebels at bay so far.
Oscar Bellfield has a couple of crafty makes from in close to his credit, but UNLV's other offensive motors — Derrick Jasper and Tre'Von Willis — have yet to score today. They're a combined 0-for-7 from the floor so far today.
The opportunities are getting fewer and fewer for the Rebels to get back into this one. A potential path might be at the free throw line. The whistles are staying tight, and UNLV might need to take some lumps inside and draw some whistles to start chipping away at this deficit some more.
Halftime, USC leads 39-25
HONOLULU — If UNLV hopes to hold on to its national ranking, a second half pretty much opposite of the first will be needed in Honolulu.
Thanks to sweltering defense and consistency on the other end, USC has built a 39-25 lead on UNLV, sparked by a 16-2 run late in the first half.
The run was highlighted by a gorgeous inbounds pass by USC point guard Mike Gerrity under his own hoop. He threw the ball the length of the court, finding Dwight Lewis in stride for an and-one layup.
On the UNLV side, Derrick Jasper spent all but one minute on the bench after picking up two quick fouls. In his place, Oscar Bellfield was the only Rebel who consistently went to the iron against USC's tough interior defense.
Here are some other numbers of note from the first half ...
— UNLV is just 8-of-26 from the floor in one of its ugliest offensive halves of the season. That includes a 3-of-12 showing from deep. Meanwhile, USC is only taking smart shots, going 14-of-30 from the field so far and 3-for-5 from deep.
— Three Rebels — Jasper, Anthony Marshall and Chace Stanback — have two fouls apiece.
— Gerrity so far has 10 points, two assists and no turnovers for the Trojans, and backcourt traps on him haven't netted any open floor opportunities for the Rebels.
— Marcus Johnson, who came in averaging 8.8 points per game for USC, has a game-high 12 at the break on 5-of-8 shooting.
— UNLV is out-rebounding USC, 18-14
— USC only averages 60.3 points per game. 39 in a first half is a bit out of character.
7:47, first half, USC leads 19-14
HONOLULU — UNLV's guards are penetrating the lengthy USC defense, but no one is showing much of a desire to pull a trigger. USC has taken advantage so far and holds a 19-14 edge.
The Trojans, however, suffered a key blow just minutes ago. Sophomore forward Leonard Washington went up to try and block a Chace Stanback dunk attempt. He got the swat, but turned his right ankle on the way down. He went to the bench, was re-taped and is now checking back into the game. We'll see if he's the same.
Meanwhile, UNLV is just 5-of-16 from the floor and has five turnovers already mid-way through the first half.
Lon Kruger is running several different guys out there as fouls pile up. Only Stanback and Derrick Jasper have two to their credit, but it looks like UNLV will have to last for a while with make-shift lineups.
15:36, first half, USC leads 6-5
HONOLULU — Defensive intensity is high on both ends of the floor, and the refs are calling the game as if they knew that would be the case.
UNLV and USC have combined to draw seven whistles in just over four minutes of play so far in the Diamond Head Classic title game, and UNLV's Derrick Jasper has suffered more than anyone.
It took him just over a minute to get called for a foul twice, meaning he'll probably be on the shelf until the second half.
Meanwhile, USC's Marcus Johnson is responsible for all six points on his team's end of the scoreboard. Matt Shaw has a deep three for the Rebels, while Chace Stanback hit a pair of free throws before heading to the bench in place of Steve 'Chop' Jones.
HONOLULU — UNLV has used the term 'business trip' repeatedly in discussing this week's stay in Honolulu for the Diamond Head Classic. And with two blowout victories under its belt, Lon Kruger's team has proven that the focus is there.
Now, after a day away from game action on Christmas Eve, the Rebels can call the trip a success with one more triumph.
UNLV (12-1) will technically be the home team today when it faces USC (7-4) in the inaugural tournament title game.
Coming into this week, many thought that if all went to plan, the Rebels would face Saint Mary's on Friday before boarding a red-eye back to Las Vegas.
But you can't say Southern Cal hasn't earned its spot in the title game. By completely taking the favored Gaels out of their comfort zone in Wednesday's semifinal, the Trojans won their fifth straight and have found a nice groove under first-year coach Kevin O'Neill.
Their style is pretty simple: Use a strict eight-man rotation to slow the game down, attack you on the glass and, in general, bang you around, keeping the game low-scoring and ugly.
UNLV isn't quite that down-and-dirty, and so far has smoked both SMU and host Hawaii by playing sweltering defense in the backcourt and scoring in bunches.
Safe to say, whoever imposes their style and will today will have a pretty hefty upper hand.
I know I did my three keys to this game on video yesterday on the site, but here's another rundown for those of you who didn't catch them ... which I'm sure is a lot of folks. Trust me, no hard feelings ...
1) UNLV needs another rebounding performance like the one it got on Wednesday against Hawaii. In that contest, the most important number turned out to be UNLV's season-high 18 offensive boards. The Rebels produced 16 second-chance points and outscored the host Warriors in the paint by a wide margin at 32-18. Southern Cal will wind up presenting one of the biggest, most imposing frontcourts UNLV faces all year. Between Nikola Vucevic, Alex Stepheson and Leonard Washington, the Trojans could wind up carbon-copying how Kansas State defended UNLV back on Dec. 12 in taking control of this game and keeping it at O'Neill's desired pace.
2) The Rebels need a good showing from their bench and have to flex their muscle in terms of overall depth. Southern Cal's starters are averaging more than 33 minutes per game so far in Honolulu, while no one in a UNLV uniform has yet to log more than 29 in a game this week. I know the day off yesterday for both teams could be an equalizer in that department, but still, you'd have to think that UNLV's strength in numbers has to give Lon Kruger an advantage. It could also come into play if the refs have a tight whistle, which has been the case for much of this tournament.
3) A big game from sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield is needed. He'll handle much of the defensive responsibility against USC's Mike Gerrity, who has been the spark behind the Trojans' recent five-game surge. In three games since becoming eligible at the end of the fall semester, he's averaging 15.3 points, 4.7 assists and four rebounds per game. If Bellfield can get in his kitchen, it takes away much of the flow USC has shown on the offensive end of late.
Prediction and 'Pick to Click'
As for a prediction, UNLV is playing its best ball right now and has to have somewhat fresher legs across the board. That said, I'm taking the Rebels to win, 71-62. I picked Bellfield to click last time out on Wednesday, and I'll do the same again.
Talk to you after tip-off.