Published Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010 | 6:35 p.m.
Updated Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010 | 9:28 p.m.
Final, Utah wins 73-69
Whatever statement UNLV made in back-to-back wins over New Mexico and San Diego State early in conference play may have lost some luster on Saturday night, as Utah prevailed at the Thomas & Mack Center, 73-69.
The Utes' 7-foot-3 David Foster hit two crucial free throws, and Shawn Glover cashed another with 7.5 seconds left to play, improving Utah to 8-8 overall and 2-1 in MWC play. UNLV is now 14-4 overall and 2-2 in the league, with road trips to face Colorado State and TCU on the slate in the upcoming week.
Tre'Von Willis led UNLV with 27 points, but missed a key free throw late and then a potential game-tying 3-point attempt with less than 20 seconds to play.
For full postgame coverage, including stories, photos, video, stats and The Rebel Room: Postgame Edition, stay tuned to lasvegassun.com/rebels.
2:43, second half, game tied 66-66
The home crowd at the Thomas & Mack Center has grown somewhat venomous over the officiating, as touchy whistles on both ends have both UNLV and Utah in the double bonus with 2:43 to play.
The game is currently tied, 66-66.
The difference tonight? Utah is 16-of-19 from the line, while UNLV has struggled somewhat and is just 21-of-32.
Tre'Von Willis leads all scorers with 26 points, while Chace Stanback has 14 points and nine boards. One more rebound will make him the first Rebel this season to record a double-double.
6:45, second half, game tied 55-55
If UNLV ultimately defeats Utah, Anthony Marshall's monster 180-degree jam with 7:43 to play could be the spark which ignited a strong finish.
With the shot clock dwindling and UNLV down by four, Marshall stormed down the right wing, then took off right underneath the hoop, elevated and did a complete pull-up on the rim in the middle of two defenders.
The crowd of nearly 18,000 got as loud as it's been all night, and a Tre'Von Willis layup later — set up by a Marshall defensive board — tied things up, putting UNLV and Utah on even ground at 55-55 with under seven minutes to play.
When was the last time the Rebels had a kid like this, with such incredible leaping ability that he could change a game's momentum with one jam?
On the night, Marshall has four points, four rebounds and two blocked shots.
Another interesting stat tonight for UNLV — the Rebels have only one 3-pointer so far.
11:53, second half, Utah leads 49-45
Tre'Von Willis continues to be the offensive pulse for the Rebels, as his six points to start the second half make him again a 20-point scorer. He's done so in each of UNLV's four conference games so far.
But the Rebels are struggling to hold the Utes completely to the mat. Marshall Henderson just hit his fifth 3-pointer of the game, and a Carlon Brown and-one layup also helped in keeping Utah just barely ahead of UNLV with 11:53 to play.
UNLV will need to improve on its 14-of-21 free throw shooting, as the Rebels got into the bonus before the 13-minute mark. The work from the line could prove crucial from here on out.
UNLV still holds a rebounding edge on Utah, at 27-25, and the Rebels are making all of the hustle plays, including Anthony Marshall's second blocked shot of the night in transition.
This is without question UNLV's biggest home crowd of the season, and if the Rebels could find some nice rhythm on offense, the atmosphere could help bring this one home. But that's much easier said than done.
Halftime, Utah leads 33-31
Tre'Von Willis took over yet again for UNLV when the Rebels needed him most, and the Mountain West Conference's leading scorer in league play scored 13 of UNLV's final 15 points in the half. At the break, the Rebels trail Utah, 33-31.
Willis was 4-of-6 from the floor in the first half and 6-of-8 at the line in leading all scorers in the first half with 14 points. He also has five defensive rebounds and two assists.
His surge helped take care of the hole created by Utah freshman guard Marshall Henderson, who is 4-of-7 from 3-point range so far.
It's by far UNLV's best home attendance of the season, and the crowd wants a reason to go nuts. If anyone else can step up for UNLV after the break, chances are that will happen. That first half was eerily similar to the first half of Wednesday's game against SDSU, which had UNLV trailing by six at the break.
Here are some more numbers of note from the first half ...
— UNLV is strong on the boards tonight. Willis and Chace Stanback have five apiece, and UNLV is out-rebounding Utah, 20-17, holding the Utes to four offensive boards.
— The Rebels are just 1-of-7 from 3-point range. Utah is 6-of-12.
— Despite UNLV limiting damage on the glass, Utah has seven second-chance points.
— Utah's bench has outscored UNLV's so far, 12-4.
— Kim Tillie, who returned for Utah after missing two games in the wake of arthroscopic knee surgery, has two rebounds in eight minutes.
— Derrick Jasper was limited to eight minutes in the first half with two fouls, but looks sharp on the offensive end. He has four points and could prove big after the break.
— Anthony Marshall has one block, one turnover and one steal. What makes this notable? Those three all took place within about 20 seconds of each other.
7:35, first half, Utah leads 23-14
Marshall Henderson hit a 25-foot 3-pointers — the fourth so far for the Utah freshman guard — and the Utes continue to show nice swagger in front of a packed house at the Thomas & Mack Center, leading 23-14 in the first half.
Henderson's threes have helped quiet the crowd each time UNLV has ignited it.
The biggest one came after a Darris Santee two-handed jam in the open court.
Anthony Marshall recorded a steal atop the key on the defensive end, but turned it right back over, trying to squeeze a bounce pass to Santee. Marshall then swatted Henderson from behind on a layup attempt in transition, and it turned into an uncontested bucket for Santee.
The pace has been hectic so far, and its reminiscent of the first half UNLV played against SDSU on Wednesday night. The Rebels will ahve to calm this one down somehow.
15:56, first half, UNLV leads 7-5
Utah gets a boost tonight with the return of senior forward Kim Tillie (the Utes' leading rebounder this season), but UNLV apparently got the message from Lon Kruger and his staff in terms of showing hunger on the defensive glass.
Both Utah buckets so far have come from well away from the rim, and the Rebels are owning the glass on both ends.
Chace Stanback showed UNLV's early rebounding hunger just before the game's first full break, diving over the Rebels' cheerleaders in an effort to save his own missed shot.
So far, Utah has missed five shots and has yet to grab an offensive board.
Derrick Jasper is showing some nice aggression on the offensive end and has four points early on to lead to Rebels. Giving UNLV its current lead was Matt Shaw, who cashed a 3-pointer from straight away.
Welcome to the Thomas & Mack Center, everyone for this week's Saturday night special.
UNLV (14-3 overall, 2-1 MWC) takes on Utah (8-8, 1-1) in the second home league contest of the week, and tonight, we'll see if the Rebels can avoid complacency, plain and simple.
The scheduling gods wanted to obviously test UNLV's resolve by setting it up so that Lon Kruger's club opened league play with a bang, facing the three most imposing opponents the Mountain West has to offer. And few within Rebel Nation can complain about a 2-1 finish in that stretch.
If UNLV can keep up the intensity on both ends that it showed in each of those three outings, taking care of the struggling Utes tonight should be no problem.
And if history suggests anything, focus shouldn't be an issue for the Rebels.
If it weren't for self-imposed sanctions at USC, you could say that UNLV's last four opponents before tonight are all legitimate contenders for NCAA tournament berths.
If you'll remember, UNLV faced five, um, 'down a notch' foes between a Dec. 12 loss to Kansas State and that Christmas Day disappointment at the hands of the Trojans in Honolulu.
UNLV won all five of those games by an average margin of 19 points.
So what am I trying to say? Well, this is not a team that has shown the slightest hint of overlooking anyone this season.
That said, on to tonight's three keys to UNLV victory
1) Rebounding, rebounding and more rebounding. Especially on the defensive end. Utah will feature two 7-footers tonight, and is without 6-foot-9 senior Kim Tillie — the team's leading rebounder on the season. Even with Tillie healthy, the Utes weren't the most productive team on the boards. As for UNLV, the Rebels have allowed an average of 15.3 offensive boards per game so far in conference play. Everyone on their sideline agrees that they can't allow that to keep up for much longer if, you know, they want to keep winning.
2) Pressure on Luke Drca. Relentless pressure. UNLV's pressure defense against opposing guards is probably the best the league has to offer. As for Drca, he can be had mentally. Anyone who watched Utah struggle in the NCAA tournament's first round last season in a loss to Arizona knows this. The Wildcats took him out of the game with endless traps, and Utah never found rhythm on the offensive end.
3) Did I mention rebounding?
And for tonight's prediction and 'Pick to Click' ... I'll take the Rebels, 77-61. As for a 'Pick to Click,' I'll go with Derrick Jasper. He's quietly been one of UNLV's more active rebounders of late, and he's due for a big game on offense.
Talk to you in a bit.