Andy Carpenean / AP
Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011 | 2:15 a.m.
LARAMIE, Wyo. — After arguably the team's worst offensive half of the season to start things off on Tuesday night, UNLV tried something new.
The result? The Rebels' highest-scoring half of the season.
UNLV rattled off 51 points in fluid fashion after the break, quickly erasing an 8-point halftime deficit and running away to a 74-65 victory over Wyoming in Laramie.
In the first 20 minutes, the Rebels (16-5 overall, 4-3 MWC) were stagnant and slow, settling for outside jumpers that weren't falling. The result was a 9-of-29 performance from the floor, 2-of-14 from three and a 31-23 hole.
The performance reflected the atmosphere, as the announced attendance of 4,190 was maybe twice the number of people who actually filed into the Arena-Auditorium on a cold, snowy, windy night to support the struggling Cowboys (8-12, 1-5).
"We were shooting too many jumpers; they were playing a little match-up zone," UNLV senior guard Tre'Von Willis said. "We knew that if the ball was deep, they either had to dig, help or go one-on-one. Our bigs did a good job of either scoring or making a play for a teammate."
On the Rebels' first two possessions after the break, they dumped the ball into sophomore forward Quintrell Thomas, who started for the first time in seven games.
The first time, he backed his man in, spun left and flipped in a little baby hook from five feet out. On the next trip, Thomas started the same way, and as the defense sagged in to help, he kicked out to junior guard Oscar Bellfield for a three from the left wing.
From there, it was rolling for UNLV, which ran its offense through the big men for a good part of the second half and found visible success.
After Thomas's initial bucket, Bellfield and junior forward Chace Stanback combined to pour in the Rebels' next 12 points. Then Willis hit a three moments later to give them their first lead since late in the first half. Then it came back around to Thomas, who had big two-handed jams on back-to-back possessions off of nice interior feeds against a confused Wyoming defense.
"It definitely felt like we were putting up numbers," Stanback said. "We know now that we have to start getting the ball inside more, because that opens up looks for everybody on the perimeter, and even for the big if he can score one-on-one. Once we started moving, we started finding guys, getting them open shots, the game started to flow a lot better."
Thomas would finish with 10 points, seven rebounds and two assists, picking up only two fouls in 20 minutes.
"He had a great game tonight, was very aggressive on the boards and offensively, he was looking for teammates when everybody was collapsing on him, so that was good," Stanback added. "And we already know he can score inside, so that's just a plus."
Meanwhile, Stanback, Willis and Bellfield each scored 17 points to lead the Rebels. Combined, the trio was 12-of-18 from the field after halftime.
Willis's offense was a nice complement off of the bench to starter Anthony Marshall's eight-point, 11-rebound, five-assist effort.
In the first half, the Rebels were 31 percent from the floor. In the second, 65.6 percent.
They dominated the glass, out-rebounding the Pokes 40-26, and after recording seven assists to eight turnovers in the first half, notched 14 and four, respectively, in the final 20 minutes.
"It felt like we were having fun," Willis said. "I think that was the loudest I've yelled on the court this year. It felt pretty good."
The dominant second half gave UNLV a shot of confidence that it sorely needed, while the next week will give the team a rest that it will be just as valuable.
The players will get a couple of days off before ending the first half of the MWC schedule next Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center against Utah.
Several Rebels are dealing with typical mid-season bumps and bruises. Stanback will use the time to rest his lower back; Bellfield will have extra time for his right wrist to heal up, and senior guard Derrick Jasper's knees will get a nice rest from normal wear and tear.
Then there's Willis.
After coming back from a two-game hiatus due to a right knee hyperextension on Saturday in a 63-62 victory over New Mexico and laboring through 25 minutes as a reserve, he looked much more comfortable on the floor just three days later.
What Willis was still lacking in explosiveness on Tuesday, he made up for with some veteran craft, also registering five assists and four rebounds while drawing a handful of fouls in his 30-minute run.
It was a promising showing for Willis, who will be leaned on heavily after the week off as UNLV rounds into the second half of its league schedule and continues to push for an NCAA tournament berth.
"I feel a little better. I'm getting a little better gradually," he said. "It's not (healing) as fast as I want it to be, but my old knee is getting a little better.
"(The break) is real big. I need it the most. I'm gonna really take advantage of it, get treatment around the clock like I've been doing, hopefully progress a little more."