Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014 | 11:45 p.m.
He could describe exactly what transpired, yet Cody Doolin wasn’t sure it actually happened.
“I don’t really remember. Maybe I blacked out,” Doolin said after accurately describing the play that sent UNLV into overtime tonight against Portland.
With 4.4 seconds left and the Rebels down by two, Doolin took an inbounds to the top of the key and drove into a double team. When he finished his spin move and looked to shoot it turned into a triple team because Dwayne Morgan’s man came up to defend the shot, so Doolin dumped off a pass and Morgan laid it in at the buzzer.
When the Rebels needed a basket again in a tie game at the end of overtime there was no question who would have the ball in his hands. Doolin beat Portland’s defense again and banked a contested layup off the glass to secure a 75-73 victory that was a mixture of elation and relief.
“He wouldn’t let us lose,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “Cody’s just absolutely a winner.”
The Pilots (7-3) trailed for only 30 seconds in the second half and led by eight with three minutes remaining, but by then the Rebels had finally started to click. That it took that long to play with more fire and urgency is a very legitimate concern, though the response did finally come.
“We were just a little off,” Doolin said of the team’s lethargy. “By the time it’s five minutes left to go, we really had no choice. It was put up or shut up.”
Over the final 3:31 of regulation plus overtime, Doolin scored 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting with two assists and one rebound. He finished with 15 total points, behind freshman Rashad Vaughn (25 points, seven rebounds, three turnovers) and sophomore Christian Wood (17 points, six rebounds, three assists, three turnovers).
Rice said he wasn’t happy with the past couple of days of practice. The team responds better after losses, he said, than victories, something that might not be a problem over the next couple of weeks.
Starting with Saturday’s game at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the Rebels are playing three top 15 teams in a 16-day span, plus a New Year’s Eve trip to Wyoming because why not? UNLV has No. 14 Utah on Saturday, then No. 3 Arizona at home Tuesday and the stretch is capped by a trip to No. 10 Kansas on Jan. 4.
The Rebels eventually did enough to get this win, but they know losing the rebounding battle 38-30, giving up 21 second-chance points or allowing 40 points in the paint probably isn’t going to cut it once the competition jumps a few levels. Still, they would much rather go into the program’s first-ever game on the Strip off this excitement than with the letdown of a loss they couldn’t afford.
“We need the confidence from tonight to go into this game and try to get the win,” Vaughn said.
Against a large Portland frontcourt, UNLV decided to play primarily one-on-one in the post. The Pilots’ bigs did well against it — the starting trio scored 35 points on 15-of-29 shooting — but not so well that it forced Rice to drop the guards down to help.
He wanted to keep them out on the perimeter to continue UNLV’s success defending the 3 and it went well, with Portland shooting 4-of-14 beyond the arc after South Dakota went 2-of-17. The Rebels were worse out there, shooting 4-of-18, but during the crucial minutes they were able to create some transition opportunities and manufacture enough points to make up the difference.
“We never quit,” Rice said. “That’s the thing about this group, we just keep playing. We don’t always play well, but we keep playing hard.”
The Rebels caught a break at the end of regulation when Portland’s Riley Barker threw away the inbounds pass, giving UNLV the ball at its own baseline down two with 17.8 seconds left. Vaughn was the triggerman on that possession, running down the clock before Barker blocked his shot out of bounds with 4.4 seconds remaining.
For the most part down the stretch, though, UNLV created its own breaks. Again, even though Portland is good the fact it came down to this is a problem if the Rebels expect to compete in these upcoming games, but their third one-possession victory this year matches the team’s total at home all of last season.
“We stuck together and willed our way into overtime,” Doolin said.
And after that, well, Doolin might have blacked out. What’s certain is his finish was unconscious.