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Late shot powers UNLV over No. 18 Louisville

Rebels stay perfect on the road in 56-55 win


Ed Reinke / Associated Press

UNLV’s Oscar Bellfield shoots over Louisville’s Samardo Samuels for the winning basket in the closing seconds of the game in Louisville, Ky. UNLV won 56-55.

Back on the Map (12-31-08)

Despite playing without leading-scorer Wink Adams, the Rebels won their seventh straight, beating eighteenth-ranked Louisville 56-55 at Freedom Hall on Dec. 31, 2008. UNLV's defense held the Cardinals to 29.6 percent shooting from the floor.

UNLV's 2008 upset of Louisville

UNLV's Oscar Bellfield looks for help as he is trapped between Louisville defenders Edgar Sosa, left, and Earl Clark during the first half. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room


Ryan Greene and Rob Miech dissect UNLV's 56-55 upset win at No. 18 Louisville on Dec. 31, 2008, which the Rebels completed with leading scorer Wink Adams out of the lineup. René Rougeau and Tre'Von Willis both rose to the occasion in terms of production and leadership, while Oscar Bellfield provided the late-game heroics. The guys also give some New Year's resolutions for both the Rebels and themselves.

LOUISVILLE – UNLV freshman guard Oscar Bellfield finished off 2008 and the 18th-ranked Louisville Cardinals by dropping a crystal ball through a net at Freedom Hall.

With 6-foot-9, 260-pound center Samardo Samuels on him, Bellfield didn’t shy away from taking the ball inside through the right side on the Louisville freshman with the game on the line Wednesday night.

Bellfield, a 6-2, 175-pound freshman, connected on a close shot just out of Samuels’s reach and high off the backboard with 16.8 seconds remaining to give the Rebels a 56-55 lead over the Cardinals.

With two ticks left at the other end, Louisville senior forward Terrence Williams’s driving shot rolled off the rim, UNLV senior forward Joe Darger grabbed it and the Rebels had their biggest victory of the season.

“I love big games. Every player should,” Bellfield said. “I was ready and prepared. (Samuels) played real good defense. For a big guy, he did a real good job. I had to get the shot over him. He was so big.

“I had to use his body to get the shot over him. I got it high off the backboard … it wasn’t that close.”

UNLV (12-2) has won seven consecutive games and is 4-0 on the road. Louisville dropped to 8-3 and plays host to rival Kentucky on Sunday.

“I was surprised it went in because of the angle,” Samuels said. “That’s basketball. You’re going to make shots like that. It’s one of those prayers you throw up. Hopefully, it goes in.”

The victory was even bigger since UNLV played with senior guard Wink Adams, and his team-leading 14.1 points, on the bench.

Adams injured an abdominal muscle last week against Southern Utah and was held out as a precaution. Rebels coach Lon Kruger expects Adams to be available Saturday night at home against New Mexico.

Kruger said it was an advantage to know for a week – instead of, say, finding out Tuesday – that Adams most likely wouldn’t be available.

“That helped a lot,” Kruger said. “It wasn’t like he went out last night and we had to make adjustments all of a sudden.”

UNLV senior forward Rene Rougeau led everyone with 17 points, on eight-of-nine shooting, and sophomore guard Tre’Von Willis, who started in place of Adams, chipped in 16.

The Rebels nailed seven of 15 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc, and Willis drilled three of those to neutralize Louisville’s dominant inside presence.

In the end, though, Bellfield didn’t hesitate challenging a taller Cardinal.

“I thought he really grew up tonight,” Kruger said of Bellfield.

It was a move the Rebels hoped to see among the top 10 plays of the day later that night on ESPN’s SportsCenter.

“If they don’t have him there, they robbed him,” Willis said. “We wanted to isolate on him, just get a good look. He went all the way with a great finish.”

Louisville sophomore guard Preston Knowles watched it all develop.

“They just capitalized on switches,” he said. “With a big man defending a point guard, nine times out of 10 the point guard will score. He did a good job driving to the hole.

“I thought he was going to miss it, but he banked it in. Samardo came close. I thought he’d block it or Bellfield would miss it.”

Louisville coach Rick Pitino called a timeout and drew up a play centered on Knowles, who could either pass it into junior swingman Earl Clark down low if he were open or feed it out to Williams.

Knowles opted for Williams, who used a screen to drive for a possible game-winning shot.

“I guess we didn’t execute it well enough,” Knowles said. “Losing any game is tough, but at home it’s really tough.”

UNLV closed out the year by clamping down on defense, allowing an opponent to shoot a season-low 29.6 percent.

An older Cardinals fan who had been sitting courtside left Freedom Hall shaking his head, saying he hadn’t seen anyone play defense against Louisville like that in a long time.

“The way they switch, they don’t allow you to run your offense,” Knowles said. “That creates problems. Players are prone to go one-on-one. It’s challenging. It’s hard for people to score when they take you out of your offense.”

That happened from the start as a subdued crowd of 19,314 watched UNLV score the first 10 points of the game. Louisville missed its first 11 shots.

When the Cardinals finally got a basket, it came courtesy of Rebels freshman DeShawn Mitchell’s goaltending of junior guard Edgar Sosa’s close shot 8 1/2 minutes into the game.

That cut UNLV’s lead to 14-6.

The Rebels were ahead, 22-7, when Louisville earned its first field goal, a 3-pointer from the right side by Knowles.

Rougeau kept the heat on the Cardinals in the second half, when his fastbreak jam gave UNLV a 38-27 edge with 15:53 left.

Then the Rebels went cold, getting only one field goal over a nearly 12-minute stretch. Louisville’s crowd got into it, and it exploded when Williams gave the Cards their first lead, at 48-47, with two free throws.

“Even though they made that big comeback, we – the coaches and all of us – were yelling the whole time that we’re going to win this game,” Willis said. “We’re mentally tough. I’m just proud of our guys.”

Half a minute after Louisville took that lead, Willis displayed his fortitude by sinking a 3-pointer from the left side, on junior guard Jerry Smith, to give UNLV a 51-50 lead.

With 77 seconds left, Willis hit the back end of two free-throw attempts to cut the Rebels’ deficit to 55-54.

And when Bellfield and power forward Mo Rutledge tied up senior guard Amdre McGee, forcing him to turn it over with 42 seconds left, Kruger declined to call a timeout.

“We liked the matchup,” Kruger said. “We liked Oscar driving on their big guy. He’s still their big guy, and Oscar did a good job. He made a tough shot. We just called a high ball screen.

“Guys run that every day.”

It’s just a bit more significant when it’s run to perfection on the road, against a ranked foe and without your best player, to ring in a new year.

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  1. Biggest win I can remember in a long time. I could not believe the way Pitino stormed out of there like a child. Im so glad we have Coach Kruger instead of Pitino. Go rebels!

  2. Didn't see that rebeltom. The celebrating Rebels were obstructing our view of the sideline over there and what was transpiring. If he was mad about Williams not getting that late call, he was itching for something that wasn't there. UNLV had more fouls than Louisville. The Cards went to the line moe often. And both Darger and Santee had their hands straight up, and were very cautious, against Williams. The kid just missed the close one -- that Bellfield nailed. Perhaps Rick was just steamed that his kid missed the close shot. Heck of a win, no doubt. Heck of a way to start the new year.

  3. I watched the game at a local pub and can tell you the mood was electric, makes me proud to be a rebel fan.

    I think the ESPN announcers were on suicide watch right after the game. The way they were talking about Louisville you would think they had kids on the team.

    Good job Rebs, that'll keep them on their toes

  4. UNLV smothered em with its defense, getalife. I bet it was great watching on TV. What an incredible shot by Oscar. And it sure looked like Santee and Darger played straight-up solid D on Williams. It's making the rounds here that Pitino didn't shake Kruger's hand afterward. We didn't have the luxury of replay. Guess Pitino wanted that last call. Pretty classless

  5. Go REBELS! :)

  6. Classless if that in fact happened, I meant. Can't see why Pitino wouldn't shake Kruger's hand under any circumstance. Both coaches want to keep this series going and respect each other tremendously. The benefit of the doubt, I think, is that they did shake hands, TV just somehow missed it in the hoopla of that crazy ending.
    Happy 09

  7. Guys, I verified it with a friend of mine that went to the game. Pitino did shake Kruger's hand after the game. ESPN showed the Rebs celebrating and just caught Pitino as he walked off. So no snub happened.

  8. This is what's all about.

    "Their defense doesn't really allow you to run your offense at all," McGee said. "It's sort of unorthodox. Guys are sort of front-facing you, they really don't have any vision of the ball, they just try to all-out deny. They really try to take you out of your rhythm."

    I love it, Lon, Vegas loves you! Please don't every leave, it's nice to have a class act like you in Vegas, unlike Rick Pitino. The little rat ran off the floor and didn't even shake Lon's hand.

  9. Even if your friend is right ro24, he didn't stay in the line to shake everyone's hand that includes the players and assistant coaches. That...I know for sure, as ESPN showed the line of handshaking just after it showed Pitino heading down the tunnel. Even if he did grace Lon Kruger he still is a sore loser for not showing the rest of our team the proper respect.

  10. Fast, here's the very latest on that, from Midway Airport in Chicago. (Got a two-hour layover.) An assistant coach confirmed that Pitino did not shake Kruger's hand immediately after the game and before he left in a huff down that tunnel. Now, whether Pitino met Kruger in that tunnel a little later or visited him in a locker room, that's not certain. But right after the game, whether he was ticked at not getting that late call or he didn't want to wait until after UNLV celebrated, he did not. Then again, as soon as that game ended, Kruger walked down the sidecourt toward the Louisville bench, soooo .....

  11. Hey Rob, Ryland here. Did you got to the game? Man, I wanted to be at that one so bad. I couldn't get tickets. I guess I have to be a bigger booster or have more connections.

  12. Was I at the game? Ry, did you not see the Louisville dateline??? :-) Yeah, I'm at all the game pally. Was very dramatic, eh? I caught the last couple minutes or so on that video that made it to YouTube. Am still trying to figure out how Samardo missed that shot. Am reviewing a few video angles of it right now to get to the bottom of it. I feel like Columbo! ha ha... have a great new year man, see you at practice soon!

  13. Wait til you all see our highlight video. Should be up soon. It's awesome. You'll want to rewind O's shot, oh, 10 or 40 times... enjoy

  14. Rob, I guess it's possible that he shook Lon's hand in the tunnel but, in my opinion, unlikely... and even if he did he still lost some respect nationally and from recruits for not doing so on the court. Dang glad Rick turned us down and even more glad Lon didn't.

  15. Ah......How sweet it is! Pitino was like a lunatic the whole game. Sreaming, yelling, finger pointing, and berating any ref he could find. I loved every second of it. I could only imagine what must have been going through his head as he watched his team collapse under UNLV's defensive pressure. It must be hard to realize that your team is somewhat "soft", and possibly overrated, while gearing up for the Big East Conference. They had no idea that UNLV was that scrappy, especially with Wink still on the Bench.

    Maybe this will set the stage for a rematch at the "Big Dance" come March. I would love to face Louisville for a spot in the Sweet Sixteen. Of course, they will be the higher seed, and we will once again be the 13 point underdog. I will fly to the game, wear my gear, cheer like a maniac, watch us win by 10, and finally tell Pitino to go "Suck It".

  16. glory, don't like coach Pitino, do you? He was into it, no doubt. Some wild-looking fotos from that game, for sure.
    Funny, though, how everything would be different if Williams makes that shot.
    Fast, not sure about unlikely. Those two coaches have grand respect for each other so it would not surprise me if Pitino stopped by the UNLV locker room. He wanted Kruger to know that he wants to extend the series, anyway, sooo ... I'll do some digging. Thx

  17. Hey Rob. im a season ticket holder, born and raised in vegas and an amatuer photographer that wants to know how i could possibly get down to courtside to take some photos sometime. I've been a rebel fan ever since i could remember. I have great photo equipment and have been getting some great shots from my seats but i know i could get some fabulous shots from courtside. How do i go about getting down there. Anyway you could help??? I would take the photos for free and give them all over to you guys for use for free just so i can gain that experience. If there is anything you could possibly do please let me know. you can email me at [email protected]... thank you Rob

  18. 8 years ago, I desperately wanted Pitino to coach the Rebels.

    I thought Slick Rick was the perfect fit for the Rebel program and probably the only coach who could realistically return UNLV to the glory days we experienced under Tark.

    I was furious when Pitino turned us down for Louisville.

    But today, I wouldn't trade Lon Kruger for two Rick Pitinos!

    The Cards can have Slick Rick and his $2.0MM a year salary. We're better off with Lon!

    I hope Pitino spent NYE and Day kicking himself for not taking the UNLV job and being part of the 'Rebelution'! GO REBELS!!