Saturday, Jan. 24, 2009 | 2:54 p.m.
Final, UNLV wins 75-65
The UNLV men's basketball team had to erase a 13-point halftime deficit on Wednesday in Provo to escape with a victory, so why should Saturday have been any different against another team from Utah?
The Rebels trailed 38-30, but behind 12 second-half points from Wink Adams and a career-high 22 from Tre'Von Willis, UNLV won its second straight, defeating Utah at the Thomas & Mack Center, 75-65.
Lon Kruger's club trailed 38-30 at the half, but went on a torrid run early, paced by two 3-pointers off the bench from Mo Rutledge and a step-back jumper on the baseline by Willis. With the big men ineffective for stretches, Rutledge was huge off of the bench, finishing with 9 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals.
René Rougeau chipped in 14 points for the Rebels, who are now 16-4 overall and 4-2 in Mountain West play. As for Utah, the Utes drop to 12-7 and 3-2 in the league.
UNLV is off for a week before taking on Air Force next Saturday in Colorado Springs at 1 p.m.
For full postgame coverage, including stories, photos, stats, video and The Rebel Room: Postgame Edition, stay tuned to www.lasvegassun.com/rebels.
3:05, second half, UNLV leads 69-57
Tre'Von Willis continues to expand on his career-high, scoring yet again inside to give him 22 points on the afternoon. Wink Adams may have dealt the first of a series of fatal blows to Utah, missing a layup against Luke Nevill, but then outhustling him for a tip-in.
Again, UNLV plays the role of cardiac kids, and if they can finish it off, it's a good way to go into the week off before heading to Air Force.
7:41, second half, UNLV leads 59-53
The confidence is spreading, as Kendall Wallace and Oscar Bellfield each scored their first points of the game after the previous media timeout, and UNLV leads 59-53 with 7:41 to play.
Wallace hit a 3-pointer from the left wing just after the break, and Tre'Von Willis then split a pair at the free throw line. The capper was Oscar Bellfield driving right at 7-foot-2 Luke Nevill for a layup off the right block. It was reminiscent of his game-winner against Louisville's Samardo Samuels.
Utah is stumbling, and Mo Rutledge continues to produce off of the bench. On top of his two 3-pointers, he's racked up 4 rebounds and 2 steals.
10:33, second half, game tied 53-53
Everyone's hitting shots now in Rebels red, as a fan just hit a halfcourt shot during the media break for the third time this season.
It only makes sense, after Tre'Von Willis and Mo Rutledge combined to hit three straight shots, tying UNLV up with Utah, 53-53.
Rutledge hit a pair of 3-pointers, while Tre'Von Willis hit a step-back jumper in the left corner, giving him a game-high 19 points so far.
It's now starting to get scary how much this game resembles Wednesday's UNLV win at BYU.
The Thomas & Mack Center is going nuts, and Utah appears to be stammering for the first time this afternoon, as Luke Nevill has gone through his first ineffective stretch in the game.
15:25, second half, Utah leads 45-36
Just like Wednesday, Wink Adams is coming to life offensively to start the second half. But unlike Wednesday, there's a 7-foot-2 center who won't quit on the other end of the floor.
Luke Nevill has two early buckets to start the second half, and coupled with a Luka Drca 3-pointer (Utah's seventh of the day), UNLV trails 45-36.
Nevill's first score came off of a spin move in between three UNLV defenders. Then, off of an entry pass from Drca, he spun and launched himself for a huge one-handed slam.
UNLV's gotta get someone else going offensively, and that guy might need to be Joe Darger, whose 3-point stroke could even things out ultimately. He still has yet to attempt a shot. It doesn't take any research to find out that this is the longest he's gone to start a game this season without a shot attempt.
Halftime, Utah leads 38-30
Thanks to a pair of late 3-pointers by Tre'Von Willis, UNLV held to within eight points of Utah going into the halftime locker room at 38-30.
Utah was 6-of-9 from 3-point range, and Luke Nevill's 8 points, 5 rebounds and 4 blocks complemented that outside proficiency nicely.
It was a first half very reminiscent of Wednesday's at BYU, with Utah dictating the pace and pretty much doing what it wanted. The Rebels had a tough time establishing much in the paint, as Nevill altered at least twice as many shots as he blocked.
Here are some numbers of note from the first half ...
-Utah was 15-of-24 from the floor, which is also known as 62.5 percent. The Utes came into today ranking second in the league in field goal percentage.
-UNLV was 2-of-3 from 3-point range, with Tre'Von Willis taking two of those attempts. Kendall Wallace took the other. Joe Darger has yet to attempt a shot in 13 minutes of play.
-Wink Adams drove hard yet again, but didn't hoist much once he encountered Luke Nevill. He's 1-for-3 from the field with two points.
-UNLV is just 4-of-10 from the free throw line.
-The Rebels were outrebounded 17-11.
The door is definitely open. A second half like Wednesday's probably wins this thing, honestly. But overcoming Luke Nevill will be tougher than just about anything the Rebels had to conquer in Provo.
2:39, first half, Utah leads 32-22
An 8-0 run for Utah was spurred by a slew of blocked shots under the hoop, and the Utes continue to have full control over the Rebels late in the first half.
Luke Nevill already has four blocked shots for Utah to go with his seven points, but he's altered several other shots, as both Wink Adams and Oscar Bellfield have repeatedly backed away from potential looks inside.
UNLV is just 9-of-24 from the floor, as rhythm is nowhere to be seen. The Rebels have done such a great job so far this season of mixing the inside and outside games on offense, and today, they're not sure which way to go.
This first half is very reminiscent of Wednesday's at BYU, which means UNLV is far from out of it.
9:10, first half, Utah leads 24-16
It may be a good thing for the Rebels that this game is about to slow down significantly. The under-12-minute media timeout didn't come until the 9:10 mark, meaning there will be two full TV breaks within about 2 minutes of game time.
That might be the best plan to slow down Utah, who is moving the ball exceptionally well and is earning open 3-point looks. Oh yeah, and they're hitting them.
Since the game's first full break, Shaun Green added a three, followed by two of them back-to-back by Tyler Kepkay.
Still, UNLV is staying within range because of Tre'Von Willis and René Rougeau. Rougeau has six points already, while Will is has six points and three assists.
How about Brice Massamba so far? With his first touch, coming out by the 3-point arc, he put the ball on the floor -- yes, he drove it -- and earned a foul call against Luke Nevill. He then hit both free throws. He then tried a 15-foot jumper from straight on. It didn't go in, but he's gaining some confidence.
As for the crowd today, I'd guess about 14,000. Not bad.
15:25, first half, Utah leads 9-8
I'm pretty sure these are the only two Division-I teams who refer to themselves as the 'Runnin' anything, and they're doing just that in the opening minutes.
Utah's provided the thunder, most notably with a Carlon Brown driving dunk through traffic, but Tre'Von Willis answered back with four straight points for the Rebels to help them keep pace. First, he hit a soft baseline jumper, then after UNLV took possession from a scrum under the defensive glass, he hit a pull-up jumper to give his team the lead momentarily.
It didn't last long, though, as Luke Nevill backed his way in for two and a foul against Darris Santee heading into the first full break. Nevill has five points and his having his way underneath. Right now it looks like UNLV's best elixir might be to trade the Utes basket for basket. Utah hasn't defended particularly well early on.
Welcome back to the Thomas & Mack Center, where a better-than-solid crowd is expected today following UNLV's 76-70 come-from-behind victory at BYU on Wednesday.
Of course, had the first half in provo been duplicated after the break, today might not be such a banner day in the Mack.
But instead, the Rebels have an opportunity to get a nice run going in MWC play. A win today would put Lon Kruger's club at 3-2 in the MWC with a week off before the Rebels face Air Force in Colorado Springs next Saturday afternoon. Utah is tied for second right now in the league at 3-1 alongside San Diego State, with TCU at 4-1.
If UNLV plays like it did in the second half in Provo, there aren't many teams who can hang around, especially in the Mack. However, finding that consistent 'activity', as Kruger likes to put it, has been the challenge. Against a Utah team today that likes to run and has a 7-foot-2 anchor in Luke Nevill who mans the post better than anyone in the league.
It's an interesting feeling in here, though, with 25 minutes until tip-off. The crowd is slowly filling in and Debbie Gibson's 'Only in my dreams' is playing on the P.A. system. Not necessarily a daunting challenge yet to a visiting squad, but we'll see how that changes before the tip.
On to today's three big predictions ...
1) Picks to click, as always ... Rob is sticking with his recent trend and is going with Wink Adams. I'm taking Joe Darger, who's been an animal on the glass the past two games. If he can hit four or five 3-pointers to go with that tenacity, he'll be a problem for Utah all day.
2) Free throws late will play a big role again. The Rebels went 12-of-14 from the stripe late in Wednesday's win, and this one promises to be just as close. How do we know this? The oddsmakers are usually pretty on, and in less than 12 hours, the Rebels have gone from a 7-point favorite to a 4-pointer.
3) UNLV 71, Utah 69 Miech takes UNLV, 70-53.
Talk to you after tip-off.