AP Photo/El Paso Times, Victor Calzada
Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008 | 2:10 a.m.
Ryan Greene and Rob Miech discuss UNLV's passing of its first road test of the season Monday night at UTEP. The Rebels were powered by the backcourt trio of Wink Adams, Tre'Von Willis and Oscar Bellfield. Plus, the guys look inside at Lon Kruger's ever-solidifying rotation now that audition time appears to be done.
- Opponent: California
- Where: Thomas & Mack
- When: Friday, Nov. 28, 5 p.m.
EL PASO – It isn’t a good idea to give UNLV senior guard and Houston native Wink Adams too much space, especially in Texas.
Texas-El Paso forward Arnett Moultrie might be 6-feet-11, but the freshman made a rookie mistake Monday night at the Don Haskins Center.
The Miners had eked to within four points of the Rebels when Adams took advantage of that extra room, drilled a 3-point shot from the left side and UNLV soared to an 80-67 victory before 8,912.
“I just knew,” said Rebels senior forward Rene Rougeau. “I was waiting for him to take that shot. I knew that would go in. The guy was playing way off Wink.
“Wink loves guys to play off him like that. ‘Awww, I’ll just hit a ‘three’ on you then.’ ”
Moultrie immediately backed off Adams three or four steps when Adams caught the ball. He took a few dribbles, and Moultrie, fearing one of Adams’s strong power drives, didn’t inch up.
Only when Adams cocked his right elbow did Moultrie finally lurch forward.
It was too late. Adams, 0-for-6 beyond the 3-point arc to that point, sank his last one to vault UNLV to a 12-3 finish and a 5-0 record for the first time in nine seasons.
Just as important, it gave Adams a 5-0 record in his home state.
Poor TCU. Adams and the Rebels play the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth on Jan. 10.
“I wanted this big time,” Adams said. “A lot of people in Houston said they were going to watch this game. Now I can get on the phone and brag. It means a lot.”
Late last January, he scored 25 points (hitting five 3-pointers) and tallied five assists and three rebounds in his best effort in the Lone Star State.
He bettered that Monday with an all-around, virtuoso performance.
Adams led UNLV with 20 points, and had game highs with six assists and five steals. He also grabbed six rebounds in a team-high 37 minutes.
The 6-foot dynamo gave the Rebels their first double-digit lead with 94 seconds left with a strong left-handed layin on Moultrie and 7-foot, 285-pound Kareem Cooper.
“Ruthless,” said Rougeau, who rooms with Adams on the road and reminded him what state he was in Sunday night at the Marriott and Monday afternoon at a team meal.
“Coach (Steve) Henson tells me I love to go with my left,” Adams said. “I was able to do that two times. When I can do that, it’s always good.”
Adams and freshman Oscar Bellfield switched off to hound UTEP star senior guard Stefon Jackson in the second half.
Jackson paved the way to a 30-17 lead for the Miners (2-1) with three jump shots and an easy layin over a three-minute stretch in the first half.
He led everyone with 14 points, on 6-for-13 shooting, at the intermission. In the second half, Jackson missed all six shots he attempted.
Sophomore guard Randy Culpepper, who went for 35 last week against Georgia Southern, had only 11 on 4-for-17 shooting against the Rebels.
“We gave the game away a little but, but they’re a good, quality team,” Jackson said of the Rebels. “You can’t make mistakes on them. They’ll burn you.”
A Philadelphia native, Jackson said he knew plenty about Adams.
“I like Wink Adams,” he said. “He’s a good player. I’ve seen him play through the years. He plays hard, just like me. It’s all love after the game. During the game, we’re at each other’s neck.”
UNLV sophomore guard Tre’Von Willis didn’t play against UTEP during his one season at Memphis, a Conference USA member like the Miners.
UTEP might like that he moved out of the league, as Willis burned the Miners with 17 points in 26 minutes.
Willis was especially pivotal on defense in the second half, when he teamed with freshman Oscar Bellfield and Adams to pester the Miners’ backcourt players.
It was the second time that UNLV coach Lon Kruger paired his first-year point guards, Willis and Bellfield, together during the crucial stretch of a game.
UTEP shot 45.7 percent from the field in the first half but went only 7-for-22 (31.8 percent) in the final 20 minutes, largely because of UNLV’s perimeter pressure.
Asked about how he will manage playing Willis and Bellfield together, Kruger was blunt.
“We don’t care,” he said. “We don’t have any preconceived ideas … whoever is getting the job done. I think the guys know that and are supportive of one another.”
After UTEP took that 30-17 lead, it had chances to extend it after Willis was called for a carry-over and Joe Darger missed a 3-pointer.
Instead, UNLV rallied with a 16-6 blitz of its own, capped by Willis’s 3-pointer from the right corner, to help it trail by only 38-35 at halftime.
“Rene, Joe, Mo (Rutledge) and I told everyone, hey, we took their best punch in the first half and only trailed by three,” Adams said. “When they went up 13, we still had a whole other half, a lot of game, to go.
“We had to get some stops and his some shots.”
At the half, Kruger said it was time to get more physical, box out to limit offensive rebounds for UTEP and start taking it to the Miners.
“We couldn’t keep reacting to everything they were doing,” he said. “Guys responded, and that was a pretty good answer. That’s not easy to do in your first game on the road.”
It helps when you’re in Texas and Wink Adams is on your team.