Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009 | 2:10 a.m.
Ryan Greene and Rob Miech discuss UNLV's 71-57 defeat of TCU, which involved the smaller Rebels lineup applying staunch defensive pressure on the inexperienced Horned Frogs. The guys also dissect one of Wink Adams' steadier performances of the year, the enigma known as Tre'Von Willis and what's up next for Lon Kruger's 18-6 ball club.
Beyond the Sun
- Fort Worth Star-Telegram: TCU men fall at UNLV
Reeling from consecutive overtime defeats and unpleasant memories from its last game against TCU, UNLV found itself trailing the Horned Frogs by 11 points Tuesday night.
The Rebels didn’t fall into the abyss of mediocrity, though.
Senior forward Joe Darger hit a 3-point shot to ignite the offense, UNLV plastered TCU with a full-court press for the entire game and the Rebels earned a 71-57 victory.
“That’s how we’ve been playing the last couple of years,” said UNLV senior guard Wink Adams. “Tonight was the first time we actually did it for 40 minutes. We had been doing it in spurts.
“Tonight it was all night and it was very useful.”
That pressure hounded TCU (13-11, 4-6 in the Mountain West Conference) into turning the ball over a season-high 26 times. The Rebels (18-6, 6-4) hadn’t forced that many miscues by a foe in more than three seasons.
Last month in Fort Worth, Texas, TCU only had eight turnovers in its seven-point victory over UNLV.
“We did a bad job meting passes,” said Frogs coach Jim Christian. “Give them all the credit. They did a great job of being aggressive and forcing us into mistakes.”
At TCU, Christian had two days to tweak his schemes and surprise UNLV. Pick-and-rolls, with Croatian forward Zvanko Buljan driving the ball, were the foundation of that new look.
Tuesday, Christian had had only one day to tweak those tweaks. This time, Rebels coach Lon Kruger won the chess battle by employing that full-court press.
“They came at us more aggressively,” Christian said. “It’s impossible for us to simulate that. We don’t have 10 guys, so it’s hard for us to simulate anybody’s pressure, especially the pressure they put on you.”
Adams led everybody with 21 points after four consecutive games under the 20-point barrier.
After Darger jump-started the Rebels with that 3-pointer from the top of the key, slicing their deficit to 15-7 with 11 1/2 minutes remaining in the first half, Adams took over.
He sank a jumper along the left baseline, a jumper from the right side and then drilled a 3-point shot from the top of the key, on Buljan, to get UNLV within 17-14.
Christian called a timeout, but the Rebels were rolling.
TCU guard Ronnie Moss, who finished with a team-best 15 points, eased by UNLV center Darris Santee for a scoop shot with 7 1/2 minutes left. Keion Mitchem sank a pair of free throws for the Frogs four minutes later.
Those were the only points for TCU in a stretch of almost eight minutes, a span in which UNLV scored 23 points to take control.
Senior forward Mo Rutledge converted a three-point play with 7:11 left that gave UNLV the lead, at 21-19, for good.
“It was basically a plus for us,” Rutledge said. “Just me being able to come in and contribute. Coming off the bench, I don’t score too many points. I’m a guy who comes in, gets rebounds and keeps the intensity up.”
The Rebels were stealing inbounds passes, double- and triple-teaming the Frogs all over, and forcing Buljan into tossing a goofy behind-his-head pass that landed out of bounds.
When UNLV kept TCU from getting the ball to half court in the required 10 seconds, the Rebels poured it on as Darger’s 3-pointer from the top pumped their edge to 27-19.
“Pressing for 40 minutes, that’s what we did last season,” said Rebels senior swingman René Rougeau. “Coach talked about everyone picking it up defensively. We tried to make that a priority.
“We definitely want to do that every game. It’s very effective for us. They had a few problems coming up the court, and we got a few 10-second calls and turnovers.”
Darger had 14 points, with four of UNLV’s nine 3-pointers, Rougeau tallied 10 and guard Tre’Von Willis had 11 points, five assists, four rebounds, two steals, a block and three turnovers off the bench.
It broke a string of 10 consecutive starts for Willis, who is hampered by a sore right shoulder and a tight right hamstring.
However, a late arrival to the Thomas & Mack Center on Tuesday night might have contributed to his starting out on the bench.
A source said Willis had a “run-in” before the game. Late Tuesday night, from home, Kruger said Willis had a “traffic issue” but that it was insignificant.
Sophomore guard Kendall Wallace started, in Willis’s place, for the first time in his career, but he went 0-for-2 from the field, turned it over once and collected four fouls in 13 minutes.
TCU got within six points of UNLV early in the second half, but Adams hit back with a high-arcing 3-pointer from the left corner. UNLV kept the heat on with its press and Adams found Rougeau alone down low.
In a flash, Rougeau caught the bullet pass and laid it in on the right side for a 48-37 advantage.
“They got aggressive, and we kind of got lost in the first half,” said Buljan. “We did a pretty good job with our game plan, we just didn’t make any shots in the second half.”
TCU went 8-for-31 from the field in the second 20 minutes. Buljan matched the career high he set the first time he played UNLV with 13 rebounds, and he added 11 points on 5-for-15 shooting.
So the sting of those back-to-back overtime defeats was softened, at least for the time being.
And Adams, a Houston native, ran his record against Texas teams to 16-1.
“It’s always personal when I play a team from Texas,” he said with his signature smile. “That Buljan is hard to guard. He’s physical and he can shoot. And their defense is disruptive.
“I’m just happy we got the win.”