Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009 | 2:14 a.m.
Ryan Greene and Rob Miech talk about UNLV's second consecutive come-from-behind victory, as this time the Rebels took out Utah, 75-65, at the Thomas & Mack Center. The guys discuss UNLV's small-ball strategy which ultimately conquered Luke Nevill, the performances of Mo Rutledge, Tre'Von Willis and Wink Adams, plus where the Rebels go from here with a week off before facing Air Force.
Irresistible force, meet the movable objects.
Much of the pregame talk before today's Utah-UNLV game centered on 7-foot-2 Luke Nevill, Utah's Gulliver-like man in the middle, and with good reason. His mere presence seemed to stake the visitors to an early double-digit lead. The rest of the Utes were playing well, too, but none of them stand 7-foot-2. None of them are capable of blocking and altering shots like Big Hand Luke can.
"Nevill is such a big target down there, a big factor," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said, stating the obvious.
But how he elected to counteract Nevill wasn't as obvious.
With 13:33 play and still trailing, 48-43, Kruger switched to a four-guard lineup. That's the way UNLV played the rest of the way, unless you count 6-foot-6 Rene Rougeau as a small forward. Then once in a while it was 3 1/2 guards -- a combination of Tre'Von Willis, Wink Adams, Mareceo Rutledge, Kendall Wallace and Rougeau -- and 6-7 Joe Darger. No Darris Santee. No Brice Massamba. No bona fide big man.
Perhaps it was just a coincidence the small-ball lineup rallied for a hard-earned 75-65 victory over one of the Mountain West's better teams. Perhaps it wasn't. I'm leaning toward the latter, but then I've always been a small-ball kind of guy.
Combined, Santee and Massamba did a nice job in the huge win against BYU in Provo Wednesday night. The Rebels are going to need them in other games this year. But today's wasn't one of them.
Santee hit one free throw, Massamba two. Neither made a basket. In the second half, Santee played five minutes, Massamba two.
The aforementioned and assorted guards, conversely, played a lot of minutes and scored a lot of points. Willis scored a career-high 22 and for the second consecutive game prevented the Rebels from getting blown out in the first half. Adams scored 14 points. Rutledge scored nine, including back-to-back 3-pointers that were simply huge. Bellfield scored six and Wallace hit a big 3-pointer.
Score one for the Lilliputians. Gulliver finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, four blocks and an assist. Those are nice numbers -- typical Luke Nevill numbers. But they weren't enough to offset all those little guys that were scurrying around him, like bugs in a tenement building when you turn on the lights.
Here's another thing about having a big man that can play: Sometimes you become too aware of him, try too hard to get him his touches. There were times Utah tried to force the ball into Nevill when it would have been better off shooting another 3-pointer -- especially the way the Utes were hitting them (10 for 16).
"We went small because we thought we might get some looks like the ones Mo got there," Kruger said. "But getting looks is the easy part. Stepping up and making them is the hard part. But guys stepped up and made them."
Yeah, guys did. The Rebels made 55 percent of their shots in the second half after shooting 43 percent in the first half. They were 5 of 9 from 3-point distance. But their mid-range jumpers were finding the mark, too.
After Nevill blocked four shots in the first 10 minutes, he didn't block another one.
Bellfield took one right at him on a drive and scored.
Bellfield took another one right him and scored again.
One of Kruger's catchwords this year is "activity." He wants the Rebels to be active. Bellfield was being active. So were the other guards and Rougeau.
"I thought we started to attack in the first half but didn't finish," Kruger said. "In the second half we said we gotta keep going. In the first half we were aggressive initially but got a little tentative at the finish. I thought in the second half we were much more aggressive at the finish."
Here's another thing about small ball. Just because you play with a bunch of little guys doesn't mean you have to get pounded on the boards. The Rebels didn't out-rebound the Utes, but Utah's edge -- 32-30 -- wasn't significant. Rutledge led the Rebels with seven rebounds. For an outside linebacker, he's got a real nice touch on his jump shot. Darger had six boards and Rougeau had five.
For a team that seemed to be struggling just a couple of weeks ago, nothing could be farther from the truth now. The Rebels are 16-4 overall, 4-2 in the Mountain West with a nice little six-day respite before they'll travel to Air Force to play -- dare we say it? -- a winnable road game. In a span of 72 hours, they've beaten BYU on its home court and put Luke Nevill and Utah in the rear-view mirror.
It has been a very good week.