UNLV fights from behind, explodes late in 64-52 victory at Air Force

Rebels close out Falcons with 19-2 run, improve to 14-4 overall, 2-2 in Mountain West


Bryan Oller / AP

Air Force’s Michael Lyons, top, collides with UNLV’s Anthony Marshall during the first half of Saturday’s game at Clune Arena at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

UNLV vs. Air Force

KSNV coverage of UNLV vs. Air Force basketball game, Jan. 15, 2011.

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — In the long run, a game like Saturday's may be just what the Rebels need.

No, they didn't get back to shooting the lights out as they did early in the season. But UNLV did hit shots when it counted and, after not being able to do so three days earlier in a loss at San Diego State, rediscovered some killer instinct in a 64-52 win at Air Force.

The Rebels trailed by as many as seven points in the second half, but closed the Falcons out with a 19-2 run that was equal parts offense, defense and intangibles.

"We came into the first half kind of sluggish, (throwing) kind of weak passes," senior guard Derrick Jasper said. "We came out in the second half a little stronger, making our shots.

"I'm happy I had a good game, but I'm happy we won. There's a lot of teams that are going to come here and lose in this arena."

The Falcons (10-6 overall, 1-2 MWC) did in fact look markedly improved from the last two seasons, when they were the Mountain West's resident cellar dwellers. Fueled by 6-foot-6 junior forward Tom Fow, Air Force constructed a 28-23 halftime lead.

That edge at the break was also assisted by the Rebels' poor shooting. Coming off of a 1-for-18 performance from long range against the 6th-ranked Aztecs, UNLV (14-4, 2-2) was just 1-of-12 in the first half.

But any lingering bad taste from the poor shooting of late was lost when the Rebels finally hit a stride with just under eight minutes left to play.

Trailing 50-45, Jasper was fouled and headed to the line, where he cashed a pair of free throws.

On the other end, as Air Force uncharacteristically pushed the ball up the floor in a hurry, Jasper was beat on a back door feed to Fow, but he recovered in time to swat a lay-up attempt against the glass.

Moments later, after some nifty ball movement, he found Justin Hawkins in the left corner for a game-tying 3-pointer.

That was the start of a memorable spurt for the Rebels where everyone had something to offer.

Most notable on the offensive end was junior guard Oscar Bellfield, who capped a day of offensive frustrations by scoring seven points during the stretch, including a dagger of a trey with three minutes left, making it 56-50.

"Defensively, down the stretch, I thought we were really solid," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "We were kind of shorthanded and several guys had to play extended minutes, too. They fought off fatigue pretty good there in the second half."

The Rebels were without senior guard Tre'Von Willis, who stayed back in Las Vegas to continue to receive treatment on his sore right knee.

UNLV already proved earlier this season that it could be productive without Willis on the floor. An unexpected handicap, though, was sophomore guard Anthony Marshall — the Rebels' top performer over the past month — being held to 26 minutes due to foul trouble.

Marshall picked up his third foul in the final minute of the first half, then got No. 4 not too deep into the second stanza.

He still produced 12 points and four rebounds in 26 minutes, but stepping up to help was Hawkins, who tied a career high with 29 minutes of run. He scored 10 points to go with two rebounds and a pair of steals.

"It was a noter game where he came in and gave us a big spark," Marshall said. "He turned it up and got us in the flow. Seeing him out there running around and causing havoc, that goes down to the other guys."

Bellfield also finished with 12 points, but leading the way was Chace Stanback, who was 6-of-13 from the floor and busted from a recent cold shooting streak in the second half. He finished with a game-high 18 points along with 11 rebounds and five assists.

Jasper had more of a relieved look on his face than anyone who exited the Rebels' locker room, though.

He'd struggled mightily on both ends of the floor so far in MWC play, going just 4-of-19 from the floor with eight total points in the first three league games.

The coaching staff told him to not worry so much about offense and try to contribute elsewhere to build his confidence back up.

Heeding that advice and battling through a sore left knee, he only attempted one shot, but on top of his five points, he had 11 rebounds, six assists and no turnovers.

UNLV finished 20-of-49 from the floor, and while going 6-of-24 overall from deep is far from stellar, the team's 5-of-12 showing from long range in the second half was encouraging. They were also 18-of-21 from the free throw line, as Air Force's hopes for a late comeback were hurt by the Falcons going 0-for-6 from the stripe in the final 3:21.

More than anything, the Rebels looked at it as something to build from to start off what has quickly become the most crucial stretch of their MWC schedule.

After falling into a quick 1-2 hole, the margin for error is small over the next five games before entering the second half. That run continues with a pair of home tilts this week, with the Rebels hosting Colorado State (12-5, 2-1) on Wednesday, then New Mexico (13-5, 1-2) on Saturday night.

It's a week where the Rebels can potentially separate from the middle of the MWC pack and plant themselves firmly in third place in the league behind San Diego State (19-0, 4-0) and BYU (17-1, 3-0).

"That's huge for us as a team," Jasper said. "It just shows that we can overcome adversity. Air Force is a good team, a really unique team, we did a good job guarding their stuff and it's really a confidence-builder for our team."

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  1. You know what is really disappointing? Drew Gordon goes for 23 points and 14 boards against SDSU yesterday. They get Gordon and we get Thomas. A guy who cant even make a layup against a team like Air Force. Pathetic.

  2. From what I understood, Drew Gordon is a punk with a bad attitude that would not have fit with the UNLV program under Kruger-which is why Kruger passed on him. That attitude fits well with New Mexico.
    Hopefully the 2nd half shooting will carry over. And, hopefully Willis watched the MTN pregame and heard the commentators bash him-maybe that will put a flame under him...
    I think the summer issue that he had and his newborn are definitely distractions. He needs to focus for this final stretch!

  3. Hate to keep picking on the kid, but Massamba played 18 minutes yesterday and grabbed all of 3 rebounds. Which believe it or not is better than his season average of 1 rebound every 7 minutes. He is 6'10" and he has no outside shot. 1 reb / 7 min is appalling for a center.

    Lopez and Thomas weren't any better yesterday, but for the season each of them is in the 3-4 minutes-per-rebound range. I admire Brice for his hard work in losing weight and becoming more athletic, but it isn't translating into increased performance in any measurable way. He is also last among the regular rotation players in points-per-minute.

    Why isn't Thomas playing more? That he fouls too much is only partially true... at least when you compare him to Brice; on average Thomas fouls once every 5 minutes 12 seconds, Brice fouls once every 5 minutes 36 seconds. Certainly not enough to explain why lately Brice plays twice the minutes Thomas does. I'm not saying Thomas is the answer, but Brice sure isn't - at least not at the moment.

    Forget our shooting woes, more than anything else it's our post play that is killing us. If they don't score in the paint and they don't grab offensive rebounds, we become a guard-only, 1-shot-per-possession team.

    Maybe we try Lopez-Thomas or Lopez-Massamba combinations to increase rebounding, or maybe we play Lopez more and send him away from the basket to open up driving lanes. Something has to change soon or we are looking at a 4th or 5th place finish in the conference, followed by a 2nd-round exit at the hands of SDSU.

  4. I got to tell ya as a father, it is hard to read someone say that a kid is a distraction. Kids are a blessing and should only motivate you more. I understand that sleepless nights and all could take away production from work( basketball). But I still would never tell trevon to choose playing better over being a good dad. Hopefully he can show his son how to not do what he has done this last year. Good luck tre.

  5. I agree, Massamba is not pulling his weight. I cringe when all they do is shoot 3's and then finally call a play and isolate Massambe in the post.
    I'd love to see 2 bigs in the game when we struggle against the zone. Put one on each side of the lower box and give on the entry pass. Let the defense rotate and have an easy backside opportunity.
    Thomas hasn't been great but he has shown some signs. I'd like to see him out there for a long period of time and see what he can do. If he fouls out he fouls out...he does that anyway!

  6. apparently you all should listen to Coach more, he explains after every game why Thomas isn't playing. He's not comfortable and not producing. He's gotta be able to do it in practice to get an extended look during the games.

  7. Kruger was willing to leave Thomas in during the second half but he was gassed. I was at the game and he was tugging on his jersey begging for Coach to take him out after only being on the court for 3-4 minutes. Quintrell has no idea what it takes to be a solid player. His work ethic is lousy. Coach is sending him a message and Q so far is not getting it.

  8. gumby, the UNLV staff never offered Gordon for a reason. There are guys in the locker room he would have never meshed with, and it was a potentially bad chemistry situation.

  9. I understand Ryan and I can appreciate that. It is just frustrating to see our bigs be outplayed by almost every center/forward we face. Would be nice to have that as a strength some year as opposed to 4 straight years of inept play underneath.

  10. If I were coaching the Rebels, I would demand at least 8-10 points and 10 rebounds per game from Brice Massamba as well as 1-2 blocked shots. Not being able to score in the paint is one thing, but a guy who is 6'-10" should be able to get 10 defensive rebounds per game, plus 1-2 offesnive boards and drop off into the middle to help when an opposing player drives the lane.

  11. It's funny how Chase and Derrick,either by themselves or together out rebound all the bigs put together.Coach needs to light a fire under those boys and get some production out of them.I understand that the former two get more minutes but the centers are under the net the whole time,what are they looking at,the crowd?

  12. Kruger passes on talent and picks up garbage thus why UNLV lost to UCSB and BYU this year.

  13. Well to be honest Lopez is much better than Thomas and Massamba put together. He has offensive moves, and better boxing out than them. Lopez should be racking in a 25 bomb each night. Somehow massamba is still racking in minutes. I already know whats going to happen towards the end of the season....UNLV will stick to thomas and Massamba for the "big games" and leave lopez hanging with 3 minutes per game. Kruger just doesn't make right decisions at all as far as substitutions go. Chase had a "great" game double-double...jasper grabed a bunch of boards and dished out. He doesnm't need to be shooting the ball anyways. Tre is leaving after this year so they need to get use to life without Tre and today was a great way to start. And how about Hawkins? No one is talking about him but he went 2-3 from behind the arc and we all see him pass up three's to make an extra pass. He needs to be having more PT and shoot the ball more!

  14. They run post plays for massamba, why not run a few plays for Thomas. Earlier in the year he was scoring those. I think we would see improvement in Thomas, but I do agree he is definitely out of shape compared to the other guys.

  15. Bob Glover... you are an idiot. You would "demand" at least 10 board per game out of Brice Massamba? Really? You know how many players in the MWC average double digits in rebounds? One. Kawai Leonard. That's it! Its amazing that you would demand Brice Massamba to essentially be the best post player in the conference. Not too much to ask, I guess. We can all agree that Brice, and the other bigs, need to play better, but let's not go crazy on what you deem to be "acceptable."

  16. Good game rebels. As for the comments, come on guys, we just won a pretty good game on the road which is difficult in conference play. I'm seeing improvement every game from someone on the team, and guys are starting to step it up when they need to.

  17. MikeLange...what's wrong with setting an expectation for a player. If I was a coach, I would see nothing wrong with expecting those kind of performances from my bigs. There's no reason why our bigs should be averaging 20+ boards a game. I'm not knocking our leagues talent by any means, but it's not like our bigs are going against big east type talent every night.

  18. I'm a little frustrated that the Rebs aren't getting better production from their bigs. But, I have to commend them on their defensive intensity.

  19. You can set expectations or goals until you're blue in the face. The fact is that UNLV runs a guard-heavy offense that focuses on running and trying to get out in transition. That usually means a sacrifice on the rebounding front. Less people crashing to boards on defense means it is easier for the other team to box out. On offense, Massamba is pulled away from the basket to set screens all the time, which takes him out of good rebounding position.

    You also have to take into account the fact that Brice plays less than 17 minutes a game. Meanwhile Kawhi Leonard, who as of last game averages less than 10 rpg plays more than 31 minutes per game. Thats part of the problem I have with "demanding" a double-double of Brice every night. Its ignorant. Not only does he have to be the best post player in the conference statistics-wise, he also has to do it in about half the minutes that the actual best post player does? Give me a break.

    Is there room for Massamba to grow? Of course! I'm by no means thrilled with his production, especially on the rebounding end of things, but he has shown flashes of offensive ability this season and at times has really been a force inside. His interior defense has vastly improved from last season. I guess because he isn't swating shots left and right, that's not good enough for some, but he makes the other team work and forces them into tough shots more often than not.

    You're right Chris, we aren't playing Big East-type talent every night... that's because this is the MWC. We also aren't pulling in much "Big East-type" talent on a regular basis. I guess my biggest problem is people coming in here saying "if I were coach, I'd do this," like its that simple. I'm sure Kruger hasn't said anything to Brice about getting better position and fighting harder for rebounds. Its like people expect Kruger to come on, read the board and say, "What!?! We aren't rebounding well? We aren't shooting well? I had no idea!"

  20. I get your point mike. I know we run a high screen, guard oriented offense. But I still don't think it's to much to ask for 15 to 20 rebounds a night from our trio of bigs. And the point about this being the mwc and not the big east, exactly, it should be easier to reach that goal. I know it's easy for all of us to sit here and say "If I was coach I would do this." I know Kruger has years of experience and is a good coach, that's why it's more frustrating to see these same problems occuring over and over again. Who knows, maybe it's more the positions coach then it is kruger's responsibility.

  21. Girls, your both pretty. You can't ask for much for a guard heave team and you should be able to ask for twenty rebounds from three people over 40 mins. Thomas and lenard combined for over thirty in 40 mins and it's just two.

  22. Thomas and Leonard average 17 rebounds combined while playing an average of 60 minutes per game combined. Our 3 "bigs" play less than 40 combined. I'd imagine it also makes both Leonard and Thomas more effective rebounders playing with more than one "big" on the floor at the same time.

  23. Massamba is garbage, get Thomas on the court or get him out of the program. This guy didn't come her to sit on the bench, if has an attitude lets' cut ties now. Brice is awful. Hawkins should start over Jasper, he lacks confidence and tougness. We can't keep on having him pass up 15 footers, and he keeps on avoiding chances to take it to the rim. You don't even have to guard Massamba and Jasper when there on the court.

  24. Our guard-heavy offense featuring numerous high screens by our bigs does account for some of the lack of rebounding, at least on the offensive side. But collectively our 3 bigs are averaging just 9 rebounds per game sharing 40 minutes, with only 5 per game on the defensive side. That seems pretty low to me. Leonard is a freak - I don't expect 10 boards a game out of any of our guys. But c'mon - Brice averages 1 defensive rebound in 17 minutes per game. That is a number that can be improved upon with a little more focus.

    Rebounding is not our only problem, or even our biggest. Our FT shooting is pretty bad, our 3-PT shooting is horrendous. We're desperately missing the outside shooting of Wallace and Shaw, but replacing your biggest 3-PT gunners is not easily fixed in-season - you gotta play with who you have.

    With a little extra effort we ought to be able to coax a few more boards out of our bigs, which might be the difference in sneaking a win in a close game later.

  25. If our bigs just do their jobs and box out, allowing for Jasper and Stanback to crash the boards, I don't see a huge problem here. I'm more concerned with upping our team rebounds number than any individual player.