Sunday, Nov. 16, 2008 | 2:14 a.m.
Ryan Greene and Rob Miech discuss UNLV's ugly-but-successful afternoon in the Thomas & Mack Center, as the Rebels opened the 2008-09 regular season with a 65-60 victory over a short-handed San Diego squad. Plus, postgame sound from Lon Kruger, Wink Adams, René Rougeau and Tre' Von Willis.
- Opponent: Texas-Pan American
- Where: Thomas & Mack Center
- When: Tuesday, Nov. 18, 7:00 p.m.
- TV: None
- Radio: 1100 AM ESPN Radio
The atmosphere inside the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday afternoon when UNLV freshman guard Oscar Bellfield threw home a one-handed jam with just over six minutes to play in the game suggested that breathing room was finally there to stay.
As Bellfield worked around a monster screen from Brice Massamba to put UNLV up 55-49 over San Diego, forcing the Toreros into a timeout, the Rebels' offensive frustration to that point seemed to be a thing of the past.
Hold the phone.
UNLV held on to win 65-60 in its season opener, but that dunk was the final field goal of the day for the Rebels. Triumph was achieved with free throws and defense, as UNLV went 0-for-4 from the floor after that momentum-changer, but was 10-of-14 at the stripe.
On the other end of the floor, the Rebels held San Diego to 1-of-8 shooting from the field in those final six minutes and forced four USD turnovers.
"Just a lot of fight, basically," said UNLV senior swingman René Rougeau, who had a key block of a Rob Jones jumper during that stretch. "We lost the lead for a minute there, but we stuck with it. It really came down to defense. Even though we're not scoring, we can't let them score as well."
The lead was gone about two minutes after the slam as San Diego ripped off a quick 7-0 run, aided by a lock-down defensive effort to match what UNLV threw at it. UNLV's next unobstructed field-goal attempt didn't come until a missed 3-pointer by Tre'Von Willis with three minutes left.
"It was a ball game that really didn't have too much flow to it," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "Their zone got us standing a little bit, and we learned from the opportunity to play against zone.
"We still need to throw it inside more, and if not throw it inside more, just attack. I thought we got tentative today around the perimeter. We've got to be able to drive the ball to gaps and make plays for each other as opposed to just moving the ball around the perimeter."
Similar to how things went down in Tuesday's 74-56 exhibition win against D-II foe Washburn, the Rebels - both early and late - found themselves getting into the habit of using the three-point shot as a crutch against the zone. This came four days after Washburn threw nothing but man-to-man pressure against UNLV.
"I think in spurts we saw some openings and took quick shots," said Wink Adams, who again led the Rebels with 19 points. "Which is something we'll learn from."
Adams, Bellfield and senior Joe Darger hoisted six 3-point attempts apiece, and as a team, UNLV attempted 29 longballs. Normally - especially given the Rebels' style the past couple of seasons - that's not such an odd number, but when only eight of them go in, it starts to look a bit funny.
This came on the heels of a 5-of-22 3-point showing Tuesday night.
And Saturday’s strained effort against a zone defense came a week after Arizona State frustrated UNLV with a zone in a private scrimmage in Tempe, Ariz.
"I think we got a lot of open looks, we just couldn't knock down a shot," Adams said. "Definitely, for the rest of the week, we've got to get in the gym and put up some shots, because even tonight, some of our best shooters, they missed a lot. We just kind of found a way to win at the end."
Added Willis: "I remember coach saying we don't have to go too fast, just be patient and get what we want. I felt like we were getting good looks, but just didn't make shots. Luckily we still got that 'W.' "
But before anyone hits the panic button, it's worth remembering that Saturday was, after all, the Rebels first game of the season. Plus, given the circumstances with this roster, expecting perfect cohesion and execution right off the bat would be a bit ludicrous.
"We've got point guards who've never played a minute of college basketball, we've got post men who've never played a minute of college basketball," Kruger added. "This will be a club we'll watch grow, develop and get better as the year goes on."