Thursday, March 5, 2009 | 2:10 a.m.
Ryan Greene and Rob 'Once again The Python' Miech discuss UNLV's sluggish, ugly 46-43 victory over Air Force on Senior Night, which, believe it or not, earned a spot in the record books. Wink Adams capped his home career with a layup with 25 seconds to go which put the Rebels up by four and iced UNLV's 21st victory of the season.
Beyond the Sun
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Before a whiteout crowd and against a team that hadn’t won a league game, UNLV senior guard Wink Adams didn’t get the first collegiate dunk that he vowed to throw down with his mother in the stands.
But he wasn’t about to complain Wednesday night about a power-drive layup that just rolled over the rim with 25 seconds remaining to help secure a 46-43 victory over Air Force.
“Squeaked it over,” Adams said. “There were a lot of bodies down there. I’m just glad I got it up off the glass and it went in. It was like a sigh of relief.”
The majority of a Thomas & Mack Center audience of 14,943 no doubt exited with the same feeling after the Rebels’ final home game of the regular season.
UNLV (21-8, 9-6 in the Mountain West Conference) had been stumbling, having lost four of its previous seven games.
With the relatives of their five seniors in the building, the Rebels turned in their second-worst shooting performance, at 30 percent, of the season.
That’s not the best early-March harbinger for tournament success, but UNLV players said they’ll take the win.
“For sure, without a doubt. Hey, whatever it takes,” said senior swingman René Rougeau.
Rougeau’s two free throws, courtesy of getting fouled when he rebounded Adams’s missed fall-away jumper, gave UNLV a 43-39 lead with 76 seconds left.
The crowd screamed its loudest since legendary guard Greg Anthony, calling the game for CBS College Sports, was introduced.
“Whenever you win a game, you take it and run with it,” Adams said. “That’s what we did tonight.”
The league tournament will be played in the Mack next week, and it’s looking like the Rebels, as the fifth seed, will play fourth-seeded San Diego State in a quarterfinal game.
That makes Saturday’s regular-season finale in San Diego a bit more interesting, especially since sophomore forward Billy White might come back from a knee injury he suffered at New Mexico.
White was a terrier for the Aztecs at the Mack in SDSU’s overtime victory Feb. 3, so playing against him twice in a week will challenge UNLV.
As for Air Force (9-19, 0-15), it’s about to become the second consecutive Mountain West squad – Colorado State pulled off the feat a year ago – to go winless against its league foes.
However, senior swingman Andrew Henke, who didn’t start, gave the Rebels fits with his game-high 19 points. Nine of those came in the final 3 1/2 minutes.
It was a much different script than Jan. 31, when UNLV went to Air Force and thumped the Falcons, 59-38.
“Yeah, it was a totally different game,” Henke said. “That’s a credit to our coaching staff and our players. Our coaches put out a good game plan, and we executed well.
“We held them to a tough night shooting and 46 points. We felt good about that.”
The Falcons felt great with 4 1/2 minutes left in the first half, when they held a 19-11 advantage. They didn’t feel so well with about eight minutes to go in the game, when UNLV had zipped out to a 41-29 lead.
That 30-10 was helped by 3-point shots from Rebels freshman guard Oscar Bellfield at the end of the first half and the start of the second.
“It’s just on us,” Bellfield said. “Making shots is a big thing. They got looks in the beginning, and we were just passing outside the key. We weren’t attacking.
“When we started to attack more, we got more options and looks.”
Adams soared in through the left side for a layup to give UNLV that 41-29 lead with 8:16 left, and then came another deep freeze by the Rebels.
They went more than 11 minutes between field goals in the first half. And after Adams’s basket for that 12-point cushion, they only got one basket the rest of the way.
That was the hard drive and layup by Adams with 25 ticks left.
“That was a heck of a finish and a heck of a drive,” Henke said. “He’s a great player. We tip our hats to him. He played well down the stretch.”
Air Force had whittled its deficit to 43-41, with 57 seconds left, when Henke drilled a jumper along the right baseline.
“We felt pretty good when they made that little run,” he said. “We hung tight and kept fighting, and it came down to the last couple of possessions.”
Air Force pestered UNLV with a 3-2 zone defense, and it pressed the Rebels at times and trapped Bellfield, sophomore Tre'Von Willis and any other guard who caught the ball out on the perimeter.
Adams felt the frustration.
“Those guys were compact in the middle,” he said. “In the paint, they did a great job shutting down the drive, contesting every shot. We did a good job in getting to the paint.”
Mainly, Adams did a fine job saving what would have been a monumental embarrassment in a season that has contained a few blemishes.
The dunk, to Adams and many other Rebels, was an afterthought.
“I’ll take a layup over a dunk from him any day,” Rougeau said. “That’s what he does. He can leave the dunking to other people. As long as he’s finishing in the clutch, that’s all that matters.”