Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2008 | 5:10 p.m.
Final, UNLV wins, 56-55
LOUISVILLE -- Oscar Bellfield hit a leaner in the lane with :14.2 left at Freedom Hall, and UNLV capped its non-conference season with a 56-55 upset of No. 18 Louisville to help ring in the new year.
Louisville got a chance with the ball late, but a Terrence Williams layup hit only the backboard, and UNLV's one-point edge held up. This came after UNLV allowed Louisville to take the lead for the first time all afternoon in the closing minutes at the free throw line.
The Rebels opened the game on a 10-0 run, and led by as many as 15 points in the first half, but a slew of 3-pointers helped UL close in late.
Tre'Von Willis was UNLV's offensive rock late in the game, as he hit six straight free throws during a 12-minute stretch during which the Rebels went without a field goal.
René Rougeau led the Rebels with 17 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks, while Tre'Von Willis scored 15 in place of Wink Adams, who sat out the game with a lower abdominal strain.
UNLV only had six field goals in the second half, but held UL to 16-of-54 shooting from the floor for the game. Samardo Samuels and Terrence Williams combined to go just 4-of-21 for the Rebels.
UNLV opens Mountain West play at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center against New Mexico.
For full postgame coverage, including stories, photos, video, The Rebel Room: Postgame Edition and stats, stay tuned to lasvegassun.com/rebels.
3:15, second half, UNLV leads 51-50
LOUISVILLE -- UNLV gave up the lead for the first time today as Terrence Williams hit a pair of free throws, then after René Rougeau tied it up with a solo charity, Jerry Smith hit two more free throws, and UL is a perfect 8-of-8 at the line this half.
Tre'Von Willis, though, ended UNLV's 12-minute field goal drought with a 3-pointer that put a bit of bounce back in the team's step, as he's scored nine of UNLV's 10 points since the 13:29 mark.
With the way the calls have been coming, this still has the potential to be a free throw-fest down the stretch.
As for Willis, he has 15 points, and has proven that UNLV can stay afloat even without Wink Adams in the lineup. A great showing by the sophomore today.
5:01, second half, UNLV leads 47-46
LOUISVILLE -- UNLV has led the whole way so far today at Freedom Hall, but who knows how much longer that might last, as Louisville has now closed a deficit which was at one point in the first half 15 points down to one.
The Rebels haven't scored a field goal since there was 13:39 left on the clock, and Brice Massamba's layup was UNLV's only points in the last 11 minutes. Tre'Von Willis has hit six straight free throws to help UNLV stay afloat, but back-to-back 3-pointers from Andre McGee and Preston Knowles have UL charging hard.
7:28, second half, UNLV leads 43-38
LOUISVILLE -- UNLV is still leading at Freedom Hall, but Louisville has officially entered 'final charge' mode. The defensive intensity has turned up greatly for the Cardinals, and thanks to four straight Earl Clark points, the Rebels' lead is down to five points with 7:28 to play, at 43-38.
Tre'Von Willis drove hard to try and extend UNLV's edge just before the last media timeout, but Terrence Williams clutched the ball from behind and earned a jump ball call.
UNLV has to feel pretty good right now about its chances. Keep in mind that this has all been done so far without leading scorer Wink Adams, and the Rebels have kept a cool mental state amidst several Louisville mini-charges and up-and-down officiating.
Speaking of the officiating, free throw shooting will be big from here on out. Both teams are in the bonus, UNLV is 5-of-8 so far, UL is 11-of-16.
11:36, second half, UNLV leads 40-32
LOUISVILLE -- Some inconsistent calls going both ways have only added to the tension here in Freedom Hall, but still, UNLV's keeping a cool collective head, leading Louisville just over eight minutes into the second half, 40-32.
Tre'Von Willis and Darris Santee each have three fouls, while Brice Massamba was recently tagged with his fourth. That could mean some serious minutes down the stretch defensively for Joe Darger, who did a good job in the first half checking up 6-foot-9 UL freshman Samardo Samuels.
The Rebels are finding just enough offense to keep the Cards at arm's length. René Rougeau, along with a huge swat in transition just now of Terrence Williams, has 14 points, scoring on a nifty driving layup early in the second half. Massamba's first points just came off a great dish from Oscar Bellfield, who patiently worked the ball down low and gave a nice wrap-around pass against Samuels.
UNLV's composure has been key. The Rebels are consistent mentally today, while the Cardinals have been up and down -- mostly up of late. But as long as Samuels and Williams are being held in check offensively, UNLV's confidence has no reason to go down.
15:28, second half, UNLV leads 38-27
LOUISVILLE -- Tre'Von Willis hit a 3-pointer to highlight UNLV's early surge out of the halftime locker room, but soon after headed to the bench with his third foul of the game. UNLV still leads UL, 38-27, early in the second stanza.
Louisville certainly has more intensity to start the second half than it did to start the game, though, as Terrence Williams connected on his first two field goals of the game.
Halftime, UNLV leads 32-21
LOUISVILLE -- Thanks to some more tough defense just before the half, UNLV kept its double-digit lead heading into the break at Freedom Hall, 32-21.
René Rougeau led all scorers in the first half with 12 points, with the final two coming thanks to an easy layup off of an Oscar Bellfield no-look dish.
Rougeau was also part of a crowd that defended Louisville's Terrence Williams on a late drive to the bucket which came up empty, allowing UNLV to still lead by 11 at the break.
Here are some other numbers of note from the first half ...
-UL was just 6-of-26 from the floor, and got a little rushed as UNLV's early lead continued to blossom. The Rebels are doing an incredible job so far with their defensive switching, keeping the Cardinals from getting many open looks from 3-point range.
-Samardo Samuels, who came in averaging roughly 15 and 7 for Louisville, has been challenged mightily. He only has four points, going 0-for-4 from the floor. Joe Darger did a great job late in the half in defending him.
-If Louisville claws back and loses this one by a small margin, they could wind up having free throw shooting to thank. The Cards are 7-of-12 at the line, though they came into the game shooting just 62 percent at the stripe for the season.
-The Rebels have been both patient and efficient on the offensive end, going 13-of-26. They're 5-of-8 from 3-point land.
-René Rougeau continues to produce all across the stat sheet, no matter the opponent. He has 12 points, four rebounds and four assists. Meanwhile, Terrence Williams' own do-it-all guy -- senior Terrence Williams -- has one point on 0-for-6 shooting.
Before the game, Rick Pitino came out to the floor with the band playing the music from The Godfather to signal his entrance. He'll need to live up to that billing in the halftime locker room in helping his team to figure out how to score consistently on this Rebels defense.
3:48, first half, UNLV leads 27-17
LOUISVILLE -- The first big push from UL came and went, and UNLV survived. The Cards cut UNLV's once-15-point lead down to as little as 7 thanks to 3-pointers from Preston Knowles and Andrew McGree, and a deuce from Earl Clark.
But Mo Rutledge hit UNLV's fourth 3-ball of the game, and René Rougeau dropped in a nifty spinning two-pointer to give him a team-high 10 points for the Rebels, who still lead by double digits at 27-17.
Still, Louisville's intensity has finally picked up, after Rick Pitino's guys looked practically lifeless for the game's first seven or eight minutes.
Tre'Von Willis came back in briefly with two fouls, and just headed back out of the game, with Kruger probably saving him up for the second half push.
What's helping the Rebels also is Louisville's awful free throw shooting. They came in hitting just about 62 percent of their tries, and today the Cards are 5-of-10.
6:47, first half, UNLV leads 22-10
LOUISVILLE -- Freedom Hall finally erupted with a Preston Knowled 3-pointer with 7:24 to play in the first half. Technically, it was UL's second field goal of the game, but the first to find the bottom of the net. The first -- an Edgar Sosa layup -- was counted because of a goaltending call on DeShawn Mitchell.
As for Mitchell, this is the most he's played all season in the first half, and offensively he's looking a bit confused. All of the Rebels are at the moment against the Cards' 2-3 zone.
But UNLV's still hitting looks when they get them. While UL is 2-of-18 from the floor, the Rebels are 9-of-13.
Seriously, it's crazy how this crowd failed to come to life until that first bucket dropped through. Now, they won't hush up. This is where the road nerves of UNLV will be tested, as there are now officially two teams in this ballgame.
11:55, first half, UNLV leads 14-4
LOUISVILLE -- UNLV is taking its offense when and where it can get it, while Louisville would love just a little bit of it. UL is 0-for-11 from the floor, and thanks to stingy defense, the Rebels are maintaining a comfortable edge on the Cards at 14-4 with just under 12 minutes to go in the first half.
The Rebels' defensive switching -- their bread and butter -- is as efficient as ever, as they're forcing Louisville to dribble-drive and kick out rather than taking the 3-point looks they may have expected to be there. All four of UL's points have come from the stripe.
Now we see what the Rebels' depth can really do. DeShawn Mitchell and Mo Rutledge are also getting some decent first half run here. Tre'Von Willis is still on the bench with two fouls.
15:42, first half, UNLV leads 10-1
LOUISVILLE -- It took Louisville 3:15 to get its first point on the board in the form of a Samardo Samuels free throw. It was the Cardinals' first small step in chipping away at a 10-0 edge UNLV had built up already.
René Rougeau added a slick layup and a dunk in transition to the two early 3-pointers by Tre'Von Willis and Oscar Bellfield. Louisville's players just don't have much life in them right now, and missing a couple of bunnies down low certainly hasn't helped wake them up. Samuels let out a yell after getting fouled, but the energy didn't seem to rub off on anyone.
Meanwhile, the first thing to go Louisville's way is a bit of early foul trouble for the Rebels. Brice Massamba and Darris Santee each have one, while Willis was just sent to the bench with his second infraction, bringing Kendall Wallace in for what will probably be a decent chunk of time.
18:22, first half, UNLV leads 6-0
LOUISVILLE -- Boy, unless there's something to cheer for, the U of L fans pretty much appear to just sit on their hands. You can audibly hear UNLV assistant Greg Grensing barking orders from the bench, and the Rebels are keeping the Cardinal faithful quiet, leading early, 6-0.
The damage was done with 3-pointers from Tre'Von Willis and Oscar Bellfield. René Rougeau also drew the game's first foul on Samardo Samuels, as it's eerily quiet at Freedom Hall.
Pregame, Part Deux
LOUISVILLE -- Tre'Von Willis will start in place of Wink Adams today at Louisville. That just became official here at Freedom Hall.
LOUISVILLE -- Wink Adams is in uniform and warmups as the Rebels are getting ready to go at Freedom Hall, but Lon Kruger said his leading scorer "looks doubtful" for today's 3 p.m. tilt with No. 18 Louisville.
Kruger gave the inconclusive answer while watching his team shoot around from the end of the Louisville bench.
Adams went through shootarounds, but was still moving pretty gingerly, not getting much lift on his jumpers. Usually, you could chalk that assumption up to the fact that it's just warmups, but normally, he goes harder than anyone in pregame shooting.
It's also assumed that Tre'Von Willis will get the start at the two.
Still, just because Wink is out, the Rebels still have a great chance to keep this one close. Plenty of it depends on two matchups in particular -- René Rougeau on Louisville's do-it-all wing Terrence Williams and Brice Massamba/Darris Santee going up against Samardo Samuels.
In the grand scheme of things, though, remember that Saturday's game against New Mexico probably carries more meaning than this one. Would an upset here today be big for potential NCAA Tournament seeding? Yes. But the Rebels couldn't afford to lose Adams to further injury past this game. Maybe UNLV needs to just chalk it up to poor timing.
With the way the Rebels defend, I think they keep it to single digits.
Now, on to tonight's three big predictions.
1) Picks to click: Rob's going with Oscar Bellfield, I'm taking Tre'Von Willis. One thing's for sure -- One of them needs to step up offensively with probably a 20-point game if Adams is out for sure.
2) Joe Darger could be the x-factor. If Massamba and Samuels struggle early on Samardo Samuels and Earl Clark, don't put it past Lon Kruger to flex Darger down on the Louisville big men on the defensive end.
3) Louisville 77, UNLV 72.
Talk to you after tip.