UNLV hangs on, nips Tulsa in 76 Classic opener, 80-71

Rebels buckle down late to advance in winners bracket, will face Murray State at 6:30 p.m. Friday


AP Photo/Christine Cotter

UNLV guard Oscar Bellfield defends against Tulsa guard Jordan Clarkson in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Tulsa at the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif. on Thursday, Nov. 25, 2010. UNLV won 80-71.

UNLV vs. Tulsa Basketball

UNLV's TreVon Willis (center) battles Tulsa defenders Justin Hurtt (15) and Jordan Clarkson in the first half at the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 25, 2010. Launch slideshow »

Friday's 76 Classic Winner's Bracket/Loser's Bracket Semifinal Match-ups

11:30 A.M. Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State (Winner's Bracket/ESPN or ESPN2)

2:00 P.M. Cal State Northridge vs. DePaul (Loser's Bracket/ESPNU)

6:30 P.M. UNLV vs. Murray State (Winner's Bracket/ESPNU)

8:30 P.M. Stanford vs. Tulsa (Loser's Bracket/ESPNU)

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — The landing wasn't as smooth as it could have been, but as planned, UNLV used its defensive pressure to help the offense take off Thursday night against Tulsa, ultimately prevailing 80-71 in its 76 Classic opener.

The Rebels (4-0) will face Murray State (3-1) in a 6:30 p.m. winner's bracket semifinal this evening back at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Against the Racers, who defeated Stanford in their first round match-up, 55-52, Lon Kruger's club will look to avoid a lapse like the one that nearly spoiled the Rebels' Thanksgiving feast late in the second half.

"It started with defense — defense helped our offense to start flowing," said UNLV forward Chace Stanback, who led the team with 15 points. "Later in the second half, I felt like we let up a little bit, but I felt like we finished the game all right. We stress playing every possession of every game, and I didn't feel like we did that towards the end."

Before harping too much on the late slip-up, though, it has to be noted that the Rebels used their style to take control of the game, and even when it got close in the closing minutes, there was never the sense that UNLV was going to let the game get away completely.

Tulsa (2-2) came in with a strong, well-rounded, veteran starting five, but a depleted and thin bench. The deeper Rebels made their biggest move with five minutes to go in the first half, when Oscar Bellfield assisted back-to-back 3-pointers by Anthony Marshall and Tre'Von Willis. Willis's trifecta gave them a 5-point lead and breathing room in a game that was neck-and-neck to that point.

During that spurt, UNLV began to push the pace on Tulsa, and turned a jog of a game into a sprint. The defensive pressure and double-teams began taking place farther and farther away from the basket and created a handful of Golden Hurricane miscues. Those were converted into buckets, and the Rebels led 40-31 at the half, with Tulsa reeling a bit.

The rout appeared to be on for good after UNLV opened the second half on a 7-0 run, keyed by a pair of Tulsa turnovers, two Stanback buckets and a Bellfield layup in transition.

"The pressure was pretty good, early in the second half we did a good job of controlling the tempo of the game," UNLV guard Derrick Jasper said. "But we kind of slipped a little bit later in the second half and they got some easy buckets."

Turnovers piled up, and Tulsa, who trailed by as many as 17 twice in the second half, made it a 73-68 game with 2:43 to play.

UNLV calmed down, though, and the Scottie Haralson 3-pointer that got Tulsa to within five points would end up being the team's final field goal of the night.

The Rebels iced the game by going 5-of-6 from the free throw line after that and added a nifty Stanback dunk in the final minute.

"It was definitely disappointing for us," Jasper added of the 10 second-half giveaways. "You can't turn the ball over with six minutes left in the game. That's really tough. We've got to do a better job controlling the ball, the tempo of the game late in the half."

Despite the rough patch and the 16 turnovers on the night for UNLV, its depth and defense made Tulsa look even spottier.

The Golden Hurricane finished with 20 turnovers to only nine assists. Tulsa came into the game without senior backup point guard Glenn Andrews, who was lost two games ago to a knee injury, and the lack of quality depth clearly hurt. Haralson and Jordan Clarkson, who split point guard duties for Tulsa, combined for no assists and eight turnovers.

"I thought Tulsa battled it — I didn't see fatigue being a big problem," Kruger said. "We were going to stay up there, stay after it to hopefully pick up some turnovers, which we did, and some scores. That was the big difference there, both ending the first half and starting the second half."

The final box score further reflected just how much UNLV was able to spread the wealth.

It was a career night of sorts for Jasper, who posted his first collegiate double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. He was also 3-of-4 from 3-point range, marking only the second time in his career that he's hit at least three treys in a game, and topped off the stat line with three assists and two steals.

Stanback's 15 points came on 6-of-7 shooting, while Bellfield had 13 points to go with seven assists and Willis looked far more comfortable offensively in his second game back from suspension than he did in the first. The senior had 12 points, including a pair of threes, and three assists.

In an odd-shaped gym that was cold, quiet, dark and has dimensions that make it tough for shooters to get used to, the Rebels were a strong 29-of-54 from the floor and 8-of-14 from outside the 3-point arc.

Haralson and senior guard Justin Hurtt each scored 15 for Tulsa, while 6-foot-11 Steven Idlet added 12, but only scored two of those points after the half and was 0-for-4 from the floor during that time.

The level of competition will get a bump against the Racers, who are the defending Ohio Valley Conference champs.

Murray State, in last year's NCAA tournament, upset Vanderbilt as a 13-seed in the first round, and then came within two points of knocking off eventual national runner-up Butler and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen.

They return three starters from that team, and have both the quality depth and the athletes to run with UNLV. In other words, they may be more likely to make the Rebels truly pay if the late-game sloppiness carries over.

"I'm very impressed by Murray State. They're athletic, tough, very physical, they control the pace," Kruger said. "They have a lot of guys that can score. It's a very tough team, so we have a lot of respect for that.

"We know we'll have to line up and play better."

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  1. The suffocating defense was great but right after Kruger made the substitutions with Mashour and Lopez, and Mashour turned the ball over...I then knew it was going to be closer than it should've been. Can't do that against Murray State. DO NOT PLAY MASHOUR OR MARTINEZ! What was this coach thinking when he put martinez in?? He read the scoreboard very wrong because Martinez only comes in when we're up by 25+ points....disappointing the way the game ended....but if Murray likes defensive games, we're definitely going to win. If we let up like we did yesterday, yes, we indeed will pay the ultimate price.

  2. Getting to watch two Rebel games on my couch on ESPN on back to back nights. Life is good. Go Rebels! Just a matter of time before we crack the top 25.