Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010 | 2:15 a.m.
- Box Score: UNLV 68, Wisconsin 65
- UNLV defense clamps down on Wisconsin, Jon Leuer
- Notebook: First half a trial by fire for Lopez
- Instant Analysis: Rebels gain victory, invaluable experience against Wisconsin
- Live Game Blog: Hawkins saves the day as UNLV hangs on for 68-65 victory over Wisconsin
- 2010-11 UNLV Schedule
- All Sun UNLV men's basketball coverage
Ryan Greene and Case Keefer take a closer look at a grinder of a 68-65 win for the UNLV men's basketball team on Saturday afternoon at home against Wisconsin. It was far from pretty, but the Rebels improved to 3-0 and now have a few days off before the start of the 76 Classic on Thanksgiving night. The guys take a look at the struggles of UNLV's big men, the defensive prowess of Justin Hawkins, the offensive heroics of Chace Stanback and assess Tre'Von Willis's return from a 4-game suspension.
The sophomore guard, with his team holding a late one-point lead over Wisconsin, stole a critical inbounds pass, then hit two free throws that iced a 68-65 victory in front of a raucous Thomas & Mack Center crowd of nearly 15,000.
"We knew coming in that it would be a tough battle," Hawkins said afterward. "We didn't get our heads down when we weren't scoring, because we knew it would be back and forth."
Back and forth was right.
The fast-paced, smooth-looking Rebels that ran through what were essentially two tune-ups leading into Saturday's clash were thrown out of their comfort zone right away.
Wisconsin (2-1), with its big lineup and grind-it-out Big Ten style, threw UNLV (3-0), especially on the offensive end.
With the Rebels keying on slowing down Badgers star senior forward Jon Leuer and, on the other side, Wisconsin focusing on UNLV's wing tandem of Anthony Marshall and Chace Stanback, the first half turned into a duel between the two teams' junior point guards.
UNLV's Oscar Bellfield and Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor each tallied 16 points in the first half, with Bellfield hitting four 3-pointers and Taylor going 8-of-9 from the free throw line.
Even with a 34-33 halftime lead, though, the Rebels appeared to have a bit of an uphill battle ahead of them.
UNLV had a tough time establishing itself at all on the glass in the first 20 minutes. Foul trouble was also mounting, as each of the Rebels' three big men — Quintrell Thomas, Brice Massamba and Carlos Lopez — had two against them.
The biggest concern, though, was the offensive ineffectiveness of the shooting guards.
Anthony Marshall, who had been arguably UNLV's best player so far entering Saturday, was scoreless on just 0-for-1 shooting, while Tre'Von Willis, making his 2010-11 debut on the heels of a four-game suspension, missed his only two tries while finding his footing and acting more as a facilitator.
The second half would have to be won largely on the defensive end, and Hawkins knew he'd factor into that heavily.
"Coach is always talking about personal battles in practice and in the locker room," Hawkins recalled. "So I was gonna take it upon myself to take on the personal battle against Taylor, because I felt he was the only person keeping them in the game, since the rest of our team was keeping Leuer and (Keaton) Nankivil in check."
Nankivil and Leuer combined for only three points in the first half, and in his 10 second half minutes, Hawkins did exactly what he wanted to against Taylor. The Badgers' floor general scored only three points on 1-of-4 shooting after the break.
Meanwhile, in a game that was tightly called by the refs going both ways, Stanback provided just enough offense at crucial times for UNLV.
The junior forward scored 17 of his career-high 25 points after the break, including three long balls that helped the Rebels stay neck-and-neck with the visitors.
"Chace has really been shooting the ball well for us," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "We couldn't get a stop on the other end to create any margin, but we kept scoring at critical times."
Stanback's biggest shot was an 18-footer from the left wing with 54 seconds to play that gave UNLV a 66-65 lead.
A little later, the stage was set for Hawkins.
Kruger and Wisconsin's Bo Ryan called back-to-back timeouts before the Badgers inbounded the ball under the UNLV hoop with eight seconds left on the clock, turning it into a strategic chess match of sorts.
"I just didn't like the look there with Leuer sitting right in front of the ball and was afraid they were just gonna dump it to him at four feet (from the basket)," Kruger recalled. "I called a timeout to get our inbounds guy in his lap."
The guy assigned to the 6-foot-10 Leuer was 6-foot-6 Derrick Jasper, but Kruger instructed his players to switch their coverages if a screen was set.
One was, and that put the 6-foot-3 Hawkins on the preseason All-Big Ten selection.
Hawkins' outstanding defensive instincts shone through when he saw Wisconsin's Mike Bruesewitz, instead of throw a pass of high to Leuer, push in a low bouncer. Hawkins swam around Leuer for a clean swipe, then held onto the ball for dear life before drawing a foul two seconds later.
The Mack quieted enough to help him sink two free throws that ended up clinching the exhausting win.
"I could say it was the biggest play of my life," Hawkins said afterward.
Added Kruger: "Justin's really good defensively, whether he's on the ball or off the ball, and he's got a great feel for it. He solidifies everything while he's out there."
The Rebels, in the wake of everything, were left with a win that will be huge a few months down the road when analysts far and wide — and the NCAA selection committee — are breaking down teams' resumés.
On the plus side, they were a key 9-of-18 from 3-point range and shot 49 percent from the floor as a team while holding Wisconsin to a 36.5 showing. They held Leuer, who came in averaging 23.5 points per game, to only 10 on 3-of-11 shooting.
But before their next game — Thursday at 8:30 p.m. to open the 76 Classic against Tulsa in Anaheim, Calif. — there are several key areas needing to be addressed.
The most obvious was that the Rebels were out-rebounded 37-29, and the Badgers all afternoon had their way in terms of getting position underneath the glass/
There were more, too, but Kruger was happy in the end that the intangibles helped secure a win that could go a long way.
The rest will be dealt with when UNLV returns to practice on Monday.
"I liked their fight, liked their battle in a game that didn't have much margin on the scoreboard throughout," he said. "A lot of good things from it, and a lot of learning opportunities from it. Really, a good early season test."