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UNLV BASKETBALL:

Burst from Jones helps Rebels chop up Wolf Pack

Senior walk-on sparks key 11-0 second half run in victory

UNLV vs. UNR Basketball

Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Steve Jones celebrates as the Rebels go on a 35-12 run against UNR during the second half of their game Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the intrastate rivalry 88-75.

UNR vs UNLV

Thanks to 35 bench-points, UNLV used a second-half surge to beat Nevada, Reno 88-75 Wednesday night at the Thomas & Mack.

UNLV vs. UNR Basketball

UNR forwards Luke Babbitt, left, and Adam Carp battle with UNLV forward Brice Massamba and guard Anthony Marshall as they chase down a loose ball during the first half of their game Nov. 18, 2009, at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won 88-75. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

UNR POSTGAME: Kruger's gamble pays off ... big

Ryan Greene, Christine Killimayer and Rob Miech break down an 88-75 UNLV victory which turned on a dime from a slugfest into a track meet on Wednesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center. It was all the result of a gamble made by coach Lon Kruger with the Rebels trailing by 12 with 15 minutes to play ...

Some walk-ons wait an entire career to have the night that UNLV senior guard Steve Jones had on Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center.

And for most of them, that night never comes.

But trailing 54-42 with a shade under 15 minutes to play against in-state rival UNR, coach Lon Kruger grabbed Jones along with freshmen Justin Hawkins and Anthony Marshall off of the bench. He threw them in in place of arguable his three best players — Chace Stanback, Tre'Von Willis and Derrick Jasper.

What ensued was a beautiful blend of precision on one side, shock on the other and madness all together.

UNLV rattled off 11 consecutive points as part of a 46-21 run to close the game.

Jones, referred to as "Chopper" by his teammates, was the sparkplug.

"We all just looked at each other and said, 'Hey, this could only go one of two ways,'" Jones recalled of that timeout. "I mean, we can either go down the road we're on or we can just put it all on the floor and see what happens.

"The end result was pretty good for us."

Jones started the rally with a layup in traffic on the left side of the rim.

After three more UNLV buckets made it a four-point game at 54-50, Jones brought the crowd noise to another level when he forced a turnover with heavy defensive pressure along the sideline. Moments later came a 3-pointer atop the key and a subsequent Wolf Pack time out.

The house rocking, his teammates storming at him to celebrate, Jones was the recipient of several vicious chest bumps, all while wearing a confident scowl across his face.

"That was great," he said. "Last year, I was in a suit and tie. I couldn't chest bump. I had to fist bump. To hear the crowd going, see my teammates happy, see that we're getting into this, it was a great feeling and I loved it."

Besides winning a state championship at Jesuit High in Portland, Ore., Jones said it was his greatest moment on a basketball court.

His teammates wouldn't mind him having a few more this season, especially if the regulars get off to rough starts like they did on Wednesday.

It began early, as junior guard Tre'Von Willis picked up his second personal foul less than two minutes into the game and spent the rest of the first half on the bench. The Rebels then looked unwound for a while.

"Chop just brings a ton of energy and a positive attitude to the team, and he's one of the players that always makes you want to do more," Willis said. "You can call him an X-factor. I can't say enough about Chop. He really gets the team going."

He can also surprise, too, which he did on the defensive end during his 20 minutes on the floor.

The Rebels regularly switch on defense, and on several occasions, the 6-foot-1 Jones found himself matched up against UNR 6-foot-9 star forward Luke Babbitt.

A tall task? Yes. But Jones was part of a committee which frustrated Babbitt all night and held him to just 2-of-11 shooting in 36 minutes played.

Jones made up for the size difference by getting creative, which involved things such as sticking a forearm in Babbitt's back to keep him in check.

"All my dirty tricks? I can't say anything about that — come on, now," Jones said jokingly. "I was just ready to fight. We practiced it all the time, positioning in the post with the guards, since we switch. You're always prepared to face a bigger opponent, and that's what happened tonight.

"I'm always ready to battle and attack. He's a tremendous player. We watched film on him, and he can do so many different things. He's got the jumper; he can drive; he's a really smooth player. We just knew we had to take that battle on and be ready for the fight. You've got to respect him, but at the same time, you've got to relish the opportunity to defend a great player."

The entire package taken into consideration — the five points, the three assists and the major helping hand on defense — and most may have been surprised to see such a bold move while facing a 12-point second-half deficit pay off so well for Kruger.

But in the sixth-year coach's eyes, it wasn't that huge of a risk.

"You see him every day in practice, and he's like that every day," Kruger said. "He's got great energy, great enthusiasm, doesn't care what role he plays. He just wants to help the team win. He was a redshirt (after transferring from Arizona State) last year and he wins — by vote of the players — most inspirational player.

"So that tells you what the players think of Chop, and certainly he's a coach's delight, and I appreciate what he does."

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