Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Published Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011 | 6:45 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011 | 9:33 p.m.
Final, UNLV wins, 49-42
Pretty, it was not.
It wasn't even close, actually.
But a win is a win, and at this point, UNLV will take it, grinding out a 49-42 victory over Air Force on Tuesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Rebels trailed at the half, 23-22, and didn't recover the lead until there were under 10 minutes left to play. Thanks to a bevy of misses on the offensive end by the Falcons, UNLV hung on.
Tre'Von Willis used late free throws to make himself the only Rebel to score in double-figures with 13 points, improving the team to 19-7 overall and 7-5 in the Mountain West as it hits the road for what's become its biggest game of the season — A 4 p.m. Saturday matinee at Colorado State, who UNLV is jockeying with for third place in the MWC and a potential NCAA tourney bid.
Oscar Bellfield added eight points for the Rebels, while Carlos Lopez scored seven off of the bench. All 13 of Willis's points came in the game's final 10 minutes.
The Rebels were 14-of-42 from the floor and struggled again from deep, going 2-of-14. Air Force wasn't much sharper, going 16-of-42 and 6-of-23, respectively.
For full postgame coverage, stay tuned to lasvegassun.com/rebels.
10:16, Second Half, Air Force leads 28-27
The best thing UNLV has going for it at the mid-way point in the second half is the fact that Air Force is just as cold offensively as the Rebels are.
UNLV still trails AFA mid-way through the second half, 28-27, but it could be much worse, as the Falcons have had several good looks rim out.
The Rebels' misses haven't been nearly as close, and as a team, they're 10-of-33 from the floor and 1-of-10 from 3-point territory.
Tre'Von Willis is still scoreless for the Rebels, as he's been in and out of the lineup after picking up his third foul.
Oscar Bellfield is 1-of-7 from the floor.
Air Force is just 11-of-32 and 4-of-18, respectively.
The sparse crowd has continued to shrink, with several angry fans already heading for the gates.
Halftime, Air Force leads 23-22
There's no sell-out crowd to help will UNLV back from this halftime deficit.
UNLV trails Air Force at the break at the Mack, 23-22, after Michael Lyons hit a three from the right corner with two seconds left on the clock.
The Rebels are 8-of-21 from the floor and 1-of-6 from deep, and have committed nine turnovers across from only five assists.
UNLV's offensive execution has been far from on-point, while no one has shown a want to step up and be the alpha dog on that end of the floor tonight. Someone's going to have to, though.
A candidate for that would be the alpha dog from a year ago who's filled that role from time to time this year — Tre'Von Willis.
With two fouls, Willis only played eight minutes in the first half and was scoreless with only one shot attempt.
No one has more than four points for the Rebels, while Lyons leads Air Force with seven.
3:58, First Half, UNLV leads 19-18
UNLV used a 10-0 run to overcome an early five-point deficit, but it wasn't your traditional, high-energy spurt.
It developed over a few minutes with a sprinkling of offense here and a defensive stop there. The catalyst was reserve guard Justin Hawkins, who scored an open-court bucket off of a nice feed from Anthony Marshall, then earned his way to the free throw lane on a similar play moments later.
UNLV is 7-of-20 from the floor, and no one has scored more than four points so far in what's been a pretty toned-down effort. The Rebels did keep their vaunted 3-point streak alive when Oscar Bellfield hit a try a few minutes ago.
What's helping the Rebels so far is a lack of offensive confidence by Air Force. The Falcons are 8-of-19 from the floor, but are being a little bit too patient, even considering their Princeton-style offense.
11:31, First Half, Air Force leads 11-8
You can't blame people for staying home tonight following Saturday's tough loss, but UNLV is clearly struggling to find energy early on.
The Rebels have been slow to pull the trigger on offense, and are letting Air Force take the air out of the ball on the other end, as the visitors lead mid-way through the first half, 11-8.
UNLV is 4-of-10 from the floor, and looks aren't coming easy as Air Force is clearly taking this one very seriously. The Rebels got a nice boost just before the game's first TV break from Carlos Lopez off of the bench. He scored on a fast break dunk, is active on defense and got fouled going for another bucket just before the latest TV break.
Well, there probably won't be a ton of home crowd energy for UNLV to feed off of tonight against Air Force.
The atmosphere is likely to be much more subdued at the Thomas & Mack for the 7:30 p.m. tip than it was on Saturday evening, when a packed house tried its hardest, but couldn't will the Rebels over the top in a 63-57 loss to No. 6 San Diego State.
The Rebels (18-7 overall, 6-5 Mountain West) cannot afford to sleepwalk, though.
Tonight, the Falcons (10-13, 4-6) will try to finish what they couldn't back in January when the two teams met in Colorado Springs. In a Saturday matinee, UNLV struggled for much of the contest before ripping off a 19-2 run out of nowhere to escape with a 64-52 win.
UNLV has won its last three home meetings with Air Force, but hasn't beaten the Falcons in those games by any more than 10 points.
Much like UNLV did last Wednesday in a rout at TCU, it could use a confidence-building effort tonight with the most important of the game on the horizon on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Colorado State.
At Moby Arena this weekend, the Rebels will be playing to avoid landing on the NCAA tournament bubble.
But before thinking about that too much, here are three things to watch for from UNLV tonight at the Mack:
1) Quintrell Thomas again disappeared from the rotation on Saturday against San Diego State, as he'd hoped to keep his recent strong play rolling against a top-level front-court. Meanwhile, junior Brice Massamba re-emerged from the depths of the bench to have his best game of the season with 11 points and six rebounds in the loss. Something close to that would be nice for Massamba, but UNLV needs Thomas to not spiral off of one rough outing. He had no points and three rebounds on Saturday, but had scored in double-figures in three of the previous games.
2) In the first meeting, UNLV let Air Force forward Tom Fow get far too many good looks from long range. He passed on a few of them, but hit three of the four that he took. The Rebels have to defend the arc better this time around.
3) Derrick Jasper used the Air Force as a big-time confidence booster the last time around, finishing with five points, six assists, no turnovers and 11 rebounds. Anyone who has watched this team of late knows that his confidence is fleeting at the moment. So put two and two together. This is an important night for Jasper.
As for a prediction for tonight, I think UNLV is going to take a game very similar to the last few meetings here in Las Vegas by a count of 66-58. My Pick to Click … and this is dangerous, I know … is Derrick Jasper. Why not?
Talk to you a bit after tip-off. To join in the conversation on Twitter, add the #unlvmbb tag to your in-game tweets. Also, give me a follow at twitter.com/ryanmgreene.