Monday, Dec. 15, 2008 | 2:10 a.m.
Ryan Greene and Rob Miech discuss UNLV's 70-61 victory over Western Michigan on Sunday afternoon at the Orleans Arena. It was a game without much flow, but Brice Massamba established himself as a solid No. 2 center in playing 16 minutes off the bench. Plus, Rougeau's Orleans magic, Wink's continued struggles and the Beas Hamga saga.
UNLV center Brice Massamba left the Orleans Arena on Sunday night wearing a funky white hooded sweatshirt, with aqua, key-lime and mauve cursive letters all over it.
“I don’t want people to miss me,” he said with a big smile.
It would be difficult for anyone to miss the 6-foot-10, 255-pound Swedish center, and his teammates found him at opportune times against Western Michigan.
Massamba hit some key second-half free throws, and one big layup, that allowed the Rebels to keep a cushion against the Broncos, and UNLV left the icy arena with a 70-61 victory before an announced crowd of 6,701.
“It felt good that coach trusted me, after practicing hard, to be able to play at the end of the game,” Massamba said. “Yeah, I was feeling pretty good. Wink got me the ball in the right position.”
UNLV (8-2) continued to play some confounding sluggish basketball, especially in Las Vegas.
The game was played at the Orleans because the Thomas & Mack Center, the Rebels’ home, played host to the two-week National Finals Rodeo through Saturday.
It isn’t that easy to shovel out a ton of cow pies overnight to prep the arena for basketball, so UNLV officials booked the Orleans – for $25,000 – for Sunday’s late-afternoon game against Western Michigan.
The Orleans normally houses the minor-league hockey Wranglers, and the wood court was cool to the touch from the ice just inches below.
Conditions were perfect for two cold-shooting teams; the Rebels had shot 41.5 percent as a squad going into the game and the Broncos were shooting 39.9 percent.
On Sunday, UNLV shot 43 percent to Western Michigan’s 44 percent.
Snow cones, anyone?
“We play like that too frequently,” said Rebels fifth-year coach Lon Kruger. “We have to be more aggressive and work to get better shots.”
Yet again, it wasn’t pretty for Las Vegas fans itching for blowout decisions over supposedly inferior foes.
“Yeah, it’s frustrating,” said UNLV senior forward Rene Rougeau, who had 11 points and seven rebounds. “All we can do is be satisfied with the wins and work on shutting people out.
“Credit Western Michigan. They worked hard and hustled all over the place. They definitely battled tonight.”
Rebels senior guard Wink Adams had a team-high 18 points, but went only 5-for-16 from the field and 8-for-14 at the free-throw line.
He has only hit 17 of his past 64 shots, a five-game drought that equals his worst shooting stretch as a Rebel – which were his first five games wearing a UNLV uniform.
“It’s definitely not pretty,” Adams said. “We’re still struggling as a team, shooting the ball. I think it was a mixture … fatigue and rushing shots. It was real tough.
“I think once we start slowing down and getting what we want on defense, it’ll be easier to hit those shots.”
The cool conditions inside the icy Orleans, Adams said, actually made breathing difficult.
But they were the same for both sides, and Western Michigan (2-8) nearly caught UNLV in a deep freeze.
Especially Derek Drews, a 6-5 senior forward from Elkhart, Ind., who went for a season-high 19 points.
“We were just trying to make them shoot check jump shots,” Drews said of the Rebels. “They took some early and hit some, which was kind of uncharacteristic of them during the season.
“But they have good players, and good players will hit tough shots sometimes. The main thing, we tried to stop them in transition, getting to the basket. We wanted to slow it down and make it a half-court game.”
Broncos guard David Kool, a 6-3 junior from Grand Rapids, Mich., entered the game averaging 18.6 points.
He finished with 10, on 3-for-14 shooting, but gave his team a 24-23 lead on a 3-pointer from the right side with 2:17 left in the first half.
But UNLV ended the half with an 11-3 run, on 3-point shots by Oscar Bellfield and Joe Darger, a three-point play by Tre’Von Willis and Adams’s 17-footer from the left side with 1.3 ticks left.
The Broncos sliced a 13-point deficit to three points midway through the second half, but Mo Rutledge scored on a nifty fastbreak pass from Kendall Wallace for some security for the Rebels.
Then Massamba, a freshman from Findlay College Prep who finished with a career-best eight points, made his presence felt.
He hit three of four free-throw attempts with about seven and a half minutes left, which pumped UNLV’s edge to 55-48.
His big play, however, took place with six minutes, 14 seconds left, when Adams drove hard into the lane from the right side.
In a flash, Adams saw Massamba open on the right side and rifled the ball to him. Massamba finished strong off the glass to give the Rebels a 59-51 lead.
“When we recruited Brice, we knew he was capable of doing all that,” Adams said. “Tonight, he played a big part in this win, setting great picks, running to the basket and hitting free throws.
“That’s real good. Whenever we can get a youngster to do that, it builds up confidence that he carries over to the rest of the season. He has a big impact on this team.”
Massamba believes the Rebels’ shooting fortunes will turn around soon. He has seen many more players hitting with much more frequency in recent practices.
“The next game or the one after that, we’ll hit shots,” he said as he zipped up the white hoody and walked from a cold arena into a chilly evening. “It will turn around soon.”