Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Published Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2010 | 7:35 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2010 | 10:03 p.m.
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Final, New Mexico wins 76-66
UNLV fans were only able to see the second half of Wednesday's highly-anticipated game between the No. 23 Rebels and the No. 15 Lobos, and despite a late tease, it told the same story as the first 20 minutes.
The Rebels got close, but not close enough late as New Mexico prevailed, 76-66, moving into sole possession of first place in the Mountain West standings at 8-2. UNLV, who heads off to face San Diego State on Saturday, is now 19-5 overall and 7-3 in league play.
The Rebels trailed by 18 points mid-way through the second half, and with a big run got back to within two with just over two minutes to play, but Vegas native Darington Hobson spread it back out with a big second-chance bucket, and it was the signature touch on his 16-point, 12-rebound performance in his homecoming game.
UNLV was 10-of-30 from 3-point range, while never recovering from the Lobos hitting their first five 3-point attempts of the game. Oscar Bellfield led UNLV with 15 points, while Tre'Von Willis struggled from the floor, going 4-of-13 in finishing with 13 points and 10 assists.
For full postgame coverage, including photos, video, stats and The Rebel Room: Postgame Edition podcast, stay tuned to lasvegassun.com/rebels.
2:34, second half, New Mexico leads 70-63
UNLV got back to within two points after trailing by as many as 18 at one point in the second half, but Vegas native Darington Hobson struck back, making it a double-double for himself with a second-chance bucket. That was followed by a 3-pointer from Phillip McDonald to put New Mexico back up by seven.
The Rebels are making one final push, as a Matt Shaw corner 3-pointer made it a four-point game at 70-66 with just over two minutes to play.
5:56, second half, New Mexico leads 63-54
UNLV continues to get back to within single digits of New Mexico, but getting within close striking distance is becoming tougher and tougher. The No. 15 Lobos lead the No. 23 Rebelos, 63-54, with 5:56 left to play at the Mack.
Darington Hobson continues to make huge plays for the Lobos, and the Las Vegas native now has 14 points and nine rebounds for the Lobos, who have a surprise visitor in the form of alum and current Indiana Pacers superstar Danny Granger sitting behind their bench.
However, the Rebels now have their best opportunity. After the TV timeout, Tre'Von Willis got a huge defensive board and then a layup on the other end, coming on the heels of a Chace Stanback put-back. UNLV is now down just five at 63-58 with 4:51 to play.
11:42, second half, New Mexico leads 61-43
It's getting later and later, and the windows of opportunity for UNLV to mount a comeback on New Mexico are growing fewer.
The widest one was just a couple of minutes ago, after UNM's Darington Hobson was given a technical foul after a tussle underneath the hoop with Chace Stanback.
Tre'Von Willis hit both free throws, then Kendall Wallace added a 3-pointer to make it an 11-point game. But Willis then missed a three which could have made it a single-digit deficit, and since then, New Mexico has gotten hot again.
The biggest backbreaker was a seemingly endless possession for New Mexico which involved four offensive rebounds and ended with Phillip McDonald hitting a corner 3-pointer to make it an 18-point game.
Halftime, New Mexico leads 40-28
It's probably a good thing that UNLV fans around the country haven't seen a second of the first half, instead catching the now fourth overtime of the Utah-TCU women's game on CBS-C.
The Lobos are 15-of-29 from the floor and hit their first five 3-point attempts in building a 40-28 lead on the scuffling Rebels.
UNLV is 12-of-31 from the floor, just 3-of-14 from three and is forcing shots while attempting to mount a comeback.
The Rebels got a brief spark from Matt Shaw, who mysteriously sat on the bench until the seven-minute mark, but New Mexico made up for lost ground and added to its lead at the end of the half with a pair of Roman Martinez free throws.
Here are some numbers of note from the first half ...
— Shaw was UNLV's leading scorer, putting away seven points in five minutes.
— Meanwhile, Tre'Von Willis has four points, four assists, two rebounds and two steals, but is just 2-of-6 from the floor.
— Kendall Wallace and Oscar Bellfield are each just 1-of-4 from 3-point range.
— For the Lobos, Vegas native Darington Hobson battled early foul trouble, but has nine points, eight rebounds and three assists in 11 minutes.
— Nate Garth was huge off of the bench for the Lobos with eight points on 3-of-4 shooting in 10 minutes of play after Hobson picked up a second early foul.
3:39, first half, New Mexico leads 31-22
For whatever reason, it was nearly 13 minutes until Matt Shaw was inserted into the game for UNLV, but he's touched the ball twice on the offensive end, scored four points, has a defensive rebound and the Rebels are waking up those in the Mack, now trailing the 15th-ranked Lobos, 31-22.
In a game still not seen by those at home because of now three overtimes between the Utah and TCU women, the Lobos are struggling to even get shots off as the packed house grows louder and louder.
Right out of the TV timeout, Matt Shaw hit a 3-pointer in the corner to make it a six-point game, and UNLV followed it by forcing a travel call.
The Lobos have missed their last three 3-point attempts since their 5-for-5 start, while UNLV has hit five of its last seven shot attempts.
7:58, first half, New Mexico leads 27-12
UNLV had a chance to cool off New Mexico as Darington Hobson went to the bench with two fouls, but it didn't derail the No. 15 Lobos one bit.
New Mexico leads 27-12 as we're past the mid-way point in the first half at the Mack. The Rebels have allowed the Lobos to go 5-of-5 from 3-point range, and reserve Nate Garth came off the bench in Hobson's place to hit two of those.
The Rebels, meanwhile, are 1-of-8 from long range, 6-of-19 from the floor and no one has any idea, it looks like, how to change the course of events.
14:18, first half, New Mexico leads 13-5
New Mexico is wasting time in giving UNLV a taste of its own medicine at the Thomas & Mack Center.
After the Rebels used the 3-point shot to kill the Lobos in Albuquerque last month, Steve Alford's club has hit its first three attempts from deep to build an 13-5 lead early on UNLV.
Sophomore guard Phillip McDonald hit the last one, and before that scored on a pair of mid-range jumpers, as the Rebels are allowing open looks outside in abundance, just like they did in Albuquerque in the first meeting.
Hitting one of those threes was Las Vegas native Darington Hobson, who grew up coming to UNLV games at the Mack. He was more than enthused while the Rebels were being introduced to their patented fireworks display and is as cool as a cucumber so far.
Sorry if you're not seeing the game yet on CBS-C. Unfortunately, you're still getting the Utah-TCU women's game in double overtime. More firepower against that TV deal, eh?
Lost in the shuffle of the Mountain West Conference having three teams in the Top 25 polls and UNLV's recent surge on the hardwood is Rebels coach Lon Kruger being on the verge of a mini-milestone.
Of course, 500 wins in Division-I college basketball is pretty much the equivalent of 500 home runs for a major league baseball player — automatic inclusion in the hall of fame.
Kruger is still probably two years away from that benchmark, but tonight, he has a shot at No. 450.
It's a very minor footnote in a game just as big as Saturday's 88-74 blowout over then-No. 12 BYU for UNLV, who now checks in at No. 23 in the AP poll. The Rebels welcome No. 15 New Mexico to town, who UNLV toppled in Albuquerque on Jan. 9, 74-62.
What does this game mean, besides one team creating a bit of separation from the three-way tie atop the MWC standings? Well, and you can agree with me or disagree, I'm convinced that with a win tonight, and barring a monstrous collapse afterwards, UNLV can all but secure itself a spot in the NCAA tournament as, at the very least, an at-large. Again, just my opinion, but a 20-4 record along with two wins over New Mexico, a pasting of BYU and non-con victories over Arizona and Louisville makes for one heck of a resumé.
Well, certainly better than North Carolina's.
Now, onto tonight's 3 keys to UNLV victory
1) Kendall Wallace was brutally hot in New Mexico. No questioning that. Kid was 7-of-9 from 3-point range. He was the difference, yes. But, what was lost in the mix was that New Mexico had far too many open 3-point looks. The Rebels were somewhat fortunate that the Lobos went just 4-of-18 from deep. If even three or four more go in, it could have been a different story. With extra attention surely being on Wallace tonight, UNLV cannot afford to allow that many open looks from long range.
2) Chace Stanback will need to stretch the Lobos out defensively. If you remember, the game in Albuquerque marked the first game in a phenomenal run for the 6-foot-8 sophomore forward which is still going. He's been aggressive and confident of late and has found a way to significantly contribute every time out since that afternoon at The Pit. On Saturday against BYU, it was his first time not scoring in double figures since then, but in exchange, he grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds.
3) The crowd needs to be a factor again. Lon Kruger's radio spot on ESPN 1100 AM, saying Saturday's crowd was a key to UNLV's victory, was no lie. If the fans show up, it'll be the same thing tonight. So far, they are, as we're 30 minutes from tip-off and the place is beginning to jump. I'm not saying it'll be a sell-out, but it looks like it'll be close.
As for tonight's prediction and 'Pick to Click', I'm taking the Rebels to win in a tight one, 72-69. I think Stanback will be huge for UNLV, especially on the defensive end, where he'll probably see a good amount of time on Darington Hobson.
Be back shortly after tip-off. It's the biggest game in college hoops tonight. While it's a shame that more of the country won't see it, if you can find a way, it'll be worth your while ... and the higher cable bill.