Thursday, Dec. 18, 2008 | 2:10 a.m.
Ryan Greene and Rob Miech discuss UNLV's 78-66 victory over Santa Clara, an efficient, complete effort which leads perfectly into Saturday's showdown with Arizona. The guys break down Wink Adams busting his shooting slump, the inside presence of Brice Massamba and other tidbits from the Mack.
Until he drilled a 3-point shot at the end of the first half Wednesday night against Santa Clara, UNLV senior guard Wink Adams had been in a deep freeze from long range.
In his previous six games, he had sunk only one of 26 shots beyond the arc. He missed two in the first half against the Broncos, although one spun around the rim before popping out.
The connection just before halftime gave Adams and the rest of the Rebels some breathing room, with a 14-point cushion, en route to their 78-66 victory over Santa Clara.
He hit the floor, at about midcourt, with both hands. He raised his arms to the rafters. His relief was as palpable as the big snowflakes falling outside the Thomas & Mack Center.
“I didn’t know what to say,” Adams said. “I didn’t think it would go in. It was a sigh of relief. I hadn’t hit a ‘three’ over the past few games. To get that one down felt good.”
To get the victory over Santa Clara (5-5), before a generously announced crowd of 10,339, was crucial for UNLV (9-2), which plays host to Arizona (7-2) at noon Saturday.
Multiple times on the big screen Wednesday night, that one was billed as a high noon “Showdown,” complete with “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” theme music, with a timely bullet hole in an Arizona logo.
Santa Clara recently lost to Arizona by three points in Georgia.
“Without a doubt it was a good win for us,” said UNLV senior swingman Rene Rougeau. “We’ll be fired up for that game on Saturday.”
UNLV’s senior starters – Adams, Rougeau and Joe Darger – were fired up Wednesday, when each hit double figures in scoring for only the second time this season.
Adams had a game-high 16 points, Rougeau had 15 and Darger snuck out with 10.
They first did that a month ago, in a 71-58 victory over North Carolina A&T.
“We’re more effective as a team when we can do that,” Adams said.
“That’s what’s expected of us,” Darger said. “Not only from ourselves, but our teammates. It’s a big confidence builder for us to get in double figures.”
That senior trio was responsible for UNLV’s first five points of the game.
Adams hit back-to-back jumpers from just beyond the free-throw line to give the Rebels a double-digit advantage midway through the first half, and he scored his team’s final seven points of the opening half.
Darger scored UNLV’s first basket of the second half with a 3-pointer from the right side for a 45-30 lead.
Rougeau flew down the lane for a wide-armed bank shot off the right side, and he hit the ensuing free throw from the foul to give the Rebels a 68-46 edge with 6:52 left.
“When we’re all hitting on all cylinders, the younger guys can get going … we have to keep that up,” Rougeau said. “We have to keep our heads up … everyone was real aggressive tonight.
“We’re the veterans. We know what to expect. We have to carry out coach’s plans, whether it’s scoring, rebounding or playing good defense. Us three and Mo, we have to be the founding forefathers of that.”
Mo Rutledge, the other UNLV senior, hit a 3-pointer from the right side nine minutes into the game for the Rebels’ first double-digit lead, at 18-8.
In addition, junior center Darris Santee scored in double digits, with 11, for the second time this season.
Fifth-year Rebels coach Lon Kruger, who won his 100th game at UNLV, has been preaching to his players to dictate the tempo in recent practices.
They did that by forcing the Broncos into 20 turnovers. The Rebels hadn’t forced a foe to turn it over that many times since North Carolina A&T.
“We tried to run our sets, but they took us out of it,” said Santa Clara senior center John Bryant. “We had to fight back from being down in the first half. They pressured us up top and took our guards out of sets.
“They just had us all out of whack at the top, and we had more turnovers because of that.”
Mission accomplished, according to Adams.
“Our whole thing is forcing teams into turnovers, not letting them run their offense,” he said. “Tonight, not just the seniors but everyone played great defense.”
Bryant entered the game averaging 18.4 points but left Las Vegas having scored only 12, and only two in the second half.
He did yank down 15 rebounds, but the rest of his teammates only had 17. UNLV grabbed 36 rebounds.
Kruger also demanded improvement on the glass.
He ran a basic drill at Tuesday’s practice – bouncing the ball off the backboard and making each Rebel grab it with both hands – that longtime Kruger followers had never seen.
That’s what happens when Western Michigan outrebounds you, like it did Sunday to UNLV at the Orleans Arena.
Kruger said he thought the Rebels played with more energy against Santa Clara and did dictate the action more, especially on defense.
“I liked the activity much better tonight,” he said.
Some big shots by Adams might be the start of his turnaround. He went 6-for-15 from the field, so he’s 23-for-80 over his past six games.
Those back-to-back straight-on jumpers in the first half were the sparks that told his teammates that he’s back on the right track.
Rougeau said he’s been telling Adams to keep shooting, like Kobe Bryant or Allen Iverson. Those guys miss shots, Rougeau told Adams, but it’s OK. They keep shooting. You just have to keep shooting.
“We joked around on the bench,” Rougeau said. “Those back-to-back shots reminded me of the old Wink, I told him. The old Wink we all know.”