Saturday, Jan. 3, 2009 | 2:08 a.m.
Some have made a big deal about Louisville coach Rick Pitino not shaking UNLV coach Lon Kruger’s hand after the Rebels’ 56-55 victory at Freedom Hall on New Year’s Eve.
Kruger isn’t one of them.
He confirmed that Pitino did not shake his hand, but that did not concern Kruger one bit.
“No big deal at all,” Kruger said. “I’ve known Rick a long time. That’s not a factor.”
UNLV freshman guard Oscar Bellfield had given his team the lead with 14.8 seconds remaining with a slick bank shot on the right side, over Louisville center Samardo Samuels’s extended right paw.
Terrence Williams missed a short banker that would have given the Cardinals a lead with about two seconds left.
UNLV big men Darris Santee and Joe Darger were defending Williams, but both of those Rebels did so with their hands straight up. Darger wound up controlling the loose rebound.
“He was talking to the officials, which is understandable,” Kruger said of Pitino.
Kruger confirmed that he and Pitino talked about extending the Louisville-UNLV series.
“We talked a little bit about that,” Kruger said. “Both are interested in doing that. It’s just a matter of working out the years where it works for both.”
On the recruiting trail
Don’t be surprised if the Rebels add Findlay College Prep forward Victor Rudd to their Class of 2009, which already includes guards Justin Hawkins and Anthony Marshall, and Findlay center Carlos Lopez.
A scholarship became available when center Beas Hamga recently bolted from the UNLV program.
The Rebels will have one scholarship for 2010, and it’s likely that Findlay power forward Godwin Okonji will be that one-man class.
Multiple sources confirmed the above scenarios.
So Kruger’s assistants have been focusing on UNLV’s 2011 recruiting class in recent months.
Assistant coach Lew Hill has spent time in Houston and Rhode Island to scout talent.
Thursday, he flew to Chicago – instead of coming home with the Rebels – to evaluate a slew of prospects at the Chicago Public Schools Holiday Classic, which started Friday.
Senior walk-on Rob Ketchum had a thrill when he qualified, academically, to play after fall semester grades were posted.
He first donned his No. 13 UNLV uniform before the Rebels played Santa Clara on Dec. 17, so he was suited up for home victories over the Broncos, Arizona and Southern Utah.
Wrap the excitement from those three wins into one big celebration, and that’s how Ketchum spent New Year’s Eve with the team in Louisville.
He traveled for the first time as a Rebel to Kentucky.
”Man, I don’t think it could get much better than that,” he said after Friday’s practice. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I told the fellas after the game I was so proud to be a part of this organization.
“The whole trip, on New Year’s Eve, and being together and getting that victory was great.”
A 6-foot-5, 205-pound senior from Sacramento, Ketchum said the plane rides to and from Louisville were just extensions of the UNLV locker room.
“It was weird, a little tiring,” he said. “It went by fast. We had heart. We played like brothers. What a road trip. I’ll never forget it.”
Matt Shaw, who had the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee repaired over the summer, practiced Friday for the first time this season.
Shaw, who had been sprinting up and down an elevated tunnel inside the Thomas & Mack Center in recent weeks under the supervision of trainer Dave Tomchek, practiced with his right knee wrapped.
He didn’t do much. For a few minutes, he anchored the 2-3 zone defense of the black shirts, the Rebels’ third team that is comprised of walk-ons and transfers.
Mostly, he was on the sideline, cheering on his teammates and joking around with them.
“It was very good to see,” Kruger said. “I knew he was anxious to get back out and break a sweat, get back with the guys. When you’re injured and not able to practice, it’s hard to totally feel like you’re not isolated.
“Anyone who’s been injured knows that feeling. I know Matt feels good about getting back out there.”
Derrick Jasper, the transfer from Kentucky, has not been with the team for two weeks as he’s spent the holidays with his family in Paso Robles, Calif.
Jasper, who is recovering from micro-fracture knee surgery, is also on the mend but will increase his regimen soon.
Kruger said Jasper was expected back in Las Vegas on Friday night, so he’ll be at Saturday night’s game against New Mexico.
Many in Newark, N.J., were probably ecstatic to see DeShawn Mitchell, one of the top leapers to come out of the city, get into the first half Wednesday night against Louisville.
The Cardinals had misfired on their first 11 shots, but they finally recorded a basket 8 1/2 minutes into the game when Mitchell goal-tended a shot by Edgar Sosa.
Mitchell atoned for it, however, a minute later with a fastbreak slam dunk – his signature – to boost UNLV’s lead to 16-6.
No doubt that explosion of noise in Newark was from all the television sets tuned to ESPN2.
Mitchell had tallied only one basket in the Rebels’ previous 10 games, in which he played seven. He missed three other shots against Louisville but grabbed an offensive rebound.