Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer discuss UNLV's 60-50 triumph over Air Force on Tuesday night at the Mack. Kendall Wallace helped get the Rebels going in the second half, while Derrick Jasper hurting his left knee was the hot topic of the night. The guys take a look at who could emerge if the UNLV junior misses any extended period of time.
The Air Force basketball team on Tuesday night didn’t play like a squad that hasn’t won a Mountain West Conference game since 2008.
After all, the Falcons seemingly always save their best for UNLV.
Air Force’s clock-controlling offense gave the host Rebels fits in the first half, but the 19-point underdog Falcons couldn’t sustain the early momentum in dropping their 22nd straight league game, 60-50.
But for an Air Force team hindered by injuries to several key players all season, the performance gives them much-needed confidence for the final six weeks of play.
If Air Force (8-11, 0-6) can give UNLV, one of the league’s top teams, a challenge in its own arena, it will certainly be more competitive down the stretch.
“We know we can compete with any team in the league,” said Grant Parker, who led Air Force with 11 points in 31 minutes. “We still haven’t been able to put a full game together. That was the problem tonight. We played good defense in the first half, but let them back in (the game) in the second half.”
The valiant effort by Air Force resembled its 46-43 loss to UNLV last March at the Thomas & Mack Center. The 46 points by UNLV was the second lowest total scored in a victory in school history.
Air Force led by as many as nine points in the first half Tuesday, limiting UNLV to 0-of-6 shooting on 3-pointers and taking care of the ball. UNLV only had four steals, two in each half.
Tom Fow connected on a trio of 3-pointers in the first half to help Air Force play arguably its best 20 minutes of basketball this season.
“We competed but that is still not satisfactory,” Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said. “We have to be better defensively. That lost the game for us tonight.”
Air Force led by nine points with 3:22 to play in the first half, but UNLV trimmed its deficit to three, 24-21, by halftime. The Rebels (17-4, 5-2) opened the second half on a 10-3 run and never looked back.
Kendall Wallace hit four 3-pointers in the second half for UNLV, and Air Force’s grind-it-out style of attack provided to be problematic in erasing the deficit.
“Wallace hit some big (3-pointers) and that hurt us,” Parker said. “If we could have played defense in the second half like we did in the first half, things would have been different.”
Reynolds said the Falcons’ slow and deliberate offense that was on display isn’t necessarily by design. Rather, he credits UNLV’s defense for forcing the shot clock to drain to less than 10 seconds on several possessions.
Reynolds said he even pulled forward Taylor Broekhuis from the lineup for passing up a shot on an open look.
“A lot of people who watched that game tonight would have thought we were holding the basketball,” Reynolds said. “But we weren’t trying to run down the clock. They were just playing good defense.”
Air Force trailed 44-34 with 9:48 remaining and could have easily given up. But to the Falcons’ credit, they scored six quick points in trimming their deficit to four.
It was moments like these that give the Falcons momentum. Early in the season, with injuries taking their toll, they might have not put up as much of a fight.
“At times tonight, I thought we were as good as we’ve been all year,” Reynolds said.
Ray Brewer can be reached at [email protected]