Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009 | 1:30 a.m.
Ryan Greene, Rob Miech and Ron Kantowski come to you from Provo to discuss UNLV's 76-70 come-from-behind victory on Wednesday night at BYU. The fellas talk about Wink Adams' emergence as the Rebels' senior spokesperson through both his play and his words, take a look at the ever-evolving early season MWC race, plus, what is it with those shoes? It's not as minor as you might think ... if you've noticed at all. Plus, postgame comments from Lon Kruger, Wink Adams and René Rougeau.
Beyond the Sun
PROVO, Utah –- At halftime Wednesday night inside the Marriott Center, Rebels players talked among themselves before their coaches entered their locker room.
Assistant coach Lew Hill heard the chatter.
“They felt like we’d win,” Hill said. “They never had any doubt about it. They were composed. They had a look in their eyes, like we’re going to come back out here and do it.”
That resolve powered the Rebels, who trailed BYU by 15 points in the first half, to a 76-70 victory before a crowd of 12,853.
Winning at Louisville on New Year’s Eve was impressive. Handily defeating Arizona at the Thomas & Mack Center was stunning.
Wednesday night was the Rebels’ most scintillating effort so far, since they had flopped so shockingly in their first two Mountain West Conference road games at TCU and Colorado State.
“We knew we could get back into the game,” said UNLV senior swingman René Rougeau. “If we really wanted this, we said at halftime, this could really change our season around. We had to take it serious.
“Everyone came out and did that.”
Three weeks ago, Wake Forest snapped the Cougars’ 53-game home winning streak.
Wednesday night, UNLV stopped a stretch in which BYU had won 25 Mountain West games in a row at the Marriott Center.
The last league team to defeat the Cougars on their own court was UNLV, at the end of the 2004-05 season.
Rebels coach Lon Kruger talked about the “fight” his team displayed in zapping the Cougars, 46-27, in the second half.
“Anytime you can come into Provo and win, it’s huge,” Kruger said. “Not many people do that. Obviously, if you can do that you pick one up on the field.”
UNLV (15-4, 3-2 in the Mountain West) jumped ahead of the Cougars (14-4, 2-2) in the conference standings.
The Rebels sealed it by sinking 12 of 14 free throws over the final two minutes. UNLV entered the game as the worst free-throw shooting team in the league, at 66.9 percent.
“Everyone has been big on that,” Rougeau said. “We have to keep working on free throws in practice, every day. Everyone, thank goodness, was able to hit them tonight.
“In the second half, we came out with more intensity. Guys really wanted it. Everyone played hard on every possession.”
Rebels senior guard Wink Adams led everyone with 22 points. He sank eight of 10 free throws, and half of his team-high eight rebounds came under UNLV’s glass.
He said it was his best effort all season driving to the basket, attacking the rim, drawing fouls and getting to the line.
In the first half, it looked like UNLV was headed for another 25- or 26-point defeat, like the past two seasons, in the building when BYU belted the Rebels in the first 11 minutes.
Adams feared the Cougars’ running game in practice Monday and Tuesday. That was prophetic as BYU’s defensive rebounding and transition game powered it to a 32-17 lead.
But sophomore guard Kendall Wallace drilled a 3-point shot, junior center Darris Santee scored on back-to-back possessions and Adams hit a jumper on Jackson Emery to cut UNLV’s deficit to 32-26.
That provided a spark of hope. Still, BYU counter-punched and took a 43-30 lead into the half when Jimmer Fredette’s 3-pointer from the top of the key swished through the net in the final second.
By all accounts, Kruger didn’t fume at his players. He was ticked, although one Rebel used another word.
“He believed in us,” Rougeau said of Kruger. “He believed we could come back and win this. Every possession had to matter. He emphasized fastbreak points. We did a great job in the second half.”
BYU beat UNLV, 24-8, in interior points in the first half. In the second, the Rebels had a 12-8 advantage.
“Two different halves altogether,” Kruger said.
The Cougars only made one of their first 16 shots in the second half. Some of that was sticky defense, Kruger said, some of that was errant attempts on open looks.
By the time BYU scored, on Emery’s 3-pointer, UNLV had snuck back into the game on Santee’s put-back and free throw, senior power forward Joe Darger’s 3-pointer and Adams’s two free throws.
The Cougars led, 46-38, but the Rebels kept coming, getting a mid-range jumper by Rougeau, a sterling reverse layup by Adams and then a long jumper by Adams.
That got UNLV to within a basket, and Fredette sank a pair of free throws to give BYU a 48-44 lead.
But UNLV kept coming and kept putting the clamp on what BYU wanted to do on offense.
Adams sliced in for another slick reverse layup, then Rougeau hit a jumper over Jonathan Tavernari, who had just turned it over, to tie it 48-48.
BYU star forward Lee Cummard missed a jump shot, and UNLV sophomore guard Tre’Von Willis wound up feeding freshman center Brice Massamba for an easy layin to give the Rebels a 50-48 edge.
It was their first lead in about 24 minutes, and they never yielded it back to the Cougars.
“It was all ‘Tre,’” Massamba said. “He saw the alley. I set a screen. Nobody was guarding me. ‘Tre’ missed the layup and I grabbed it. It was wide open.
“I just bumped another dude, took it and finished it. Yeah, it was pretty big for me. It was too easy for them in the first half. We had to start guarding like Rebels.”
UNLV’s advantage swelled to nine points, on Willis’s 3-pointer from the right corner, when BYU tried coming back.
But Adams took over, once again, with a jumper from the right side as the 35-second shot clock was about to expire with a bit more than two minutes left.
Adams, who had his right eye poked early in the second half, said he saw the shot clock at :05 and knew he had to do something.
“I kind of did one dribble to the right and shot it,” he said. “I didn’t think it would go in, but I’m glad it did.”
Adams set himself up for that shot by diving for a loose ball, and calling timeout with 2:37 left, on defense.
“That’s what he’s supposed to do,” Hill said. “That’s what seniors do. It pumps up everybody. That’s winning basketball right there! That’s Rebels basketball!”
A small contingent of red-clad UNLV fans that sat behind the Rebels’ bench howled at them moments after the game ended. Kruger walked by them, pointed up at them with a wide smile, and winked.
“This might be bigger than Louisville,” Rougeau said. “It was such a great team win. It was a great atmosphere tonight, and BYU came with it. The crowd really got into it.
“But every one of us really kept our composure tonight.”