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April 17, 2014

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Rebels Stave Off Pepperdine

In a game that had more twists and turns than LeMans, UNLV’s basketball team weathers one of its poorest shooting nights of the season to stave off a fired up Pepperdine team 85-80, Saturday night at Las Vegas Convention Center.

The sixth-ranked Rebels had their record 12-game streak of 100 or more points in a game snapped but that was the last thing on the minds of the sellout crowd of 6, 257 fans after it became obvious UNLV was in real trouble of havig its 12-game win streak this season and 53-game homecourt win streak ended.

The player who won this game for UNLV and the player who almost made I an upset were both on the bench before it was over. The Rebels’ Larry Moffett, the 6-9 junior center, came into the game with four fouls with 10:35 remaining and the Waves on top by three 65-62. When he fouled out with 6:52 to go. UNLV had just finished 9-0 spurt and was in front for good at 69-65.

UNLV’s lead didn’t look like much when Moffett left for good but it seemed a lot better second later when Pepperdine’s Ollie Matson received his fifth and final personal foul. Matson, whose last-minute shot in Malibu last year handed UNLV its only regular season loss, was the player most responsible for the Rebels being in trouble. Unstoppable in the first half he scored 19 points and led the Waves to 48-45 lead, he finished with 27, hitting 10 of 16 from the field.

Big Lew Brown, who did almost everything he could to throw the game away in the first 35 minutes by missing layups, committing silly fouls and throwing the ball away, then came up with two of several clutch plays UNLV made in the stretch.

Twice after Pepperdine closed to within two, Brown made three-point plays to keep UNLV in the lead, both coming on follow shots. Then, when Pepperdine came to within two again with 2:56 remaining, UNLV iced the contest on another three-play play, this one by Eddie Owens.

Owens scored underneath after taking a nifty pass from Glen Gondrezick. Gondo had gotten the ball in close from Reggie Theus who, handling the ball in UNLV’s four-corner stall game, had driven down the key and passed off.

It was still far from over. The Waves closed to within three at 1:56 but the Rebels threw up a surprise zone defense that the Waves couldn’t penetrate and Robert Smith finally forced a turnover and hit two free throws to make it 83-80 with 21 seconds left.

When it was over, the statistics sheet reflected just what had taken place on the court. UNLV, which went in shooting 50 percent from the field as a team, hit only 38 percent, wasting most of Pepperdine’s 25 turnovers. The Waves hit 46 percent.

UNLV, which went into the game outrebounding opponents by nearly 10 a game, ended up being outrebounded by one, 51-50.

Thus, the Rebels found themselves in a dogfight from the opening tip off. In the first half the score changed hands 18 times and was tied on five occasions. The Rebels, who trailed most of the way, fell behind by seven points with 2:10 to go in the half. Till behind y five with 1:15 to go, Moffett made the two plays of the game to put the crowd on its feet and make it close at half. First, he skied high in the air for a two-handed stuff of an offensive rebound and then brought UNLV to within one point by stealing the ball and, down court, getting another offensive rebound and stuffing it again from way above the rim with one hand.

In 22 minutes playing time, Moffett hit seven of 10 shots for 14 points, led the game with 13 rebounds, blocked a season-high five shots, stole the ball once and took one of UNLV's six chargers (two by Gondo).

"Was he the difference?" Pepperdine assist coach Leroy Porter, subbing for regular head coach Gary Colson who was visiting his sick father in Georgia, retorted when asked later about Moffett. "God, was he the difference!" He mentioned how Moffett came in the second half and "started pushing guys around."

Porter also sid about the Waves, who are now 10-6 for the season. "We were (playing) over our heads. I'm the first to admit it."

Late in the game, with the score 81-78 in UNLV's favor, Pepperdine called a timeout, its last, then came back on the court and started passing the ball around almost as if it was trying to stall itself, not even getting a shot off against the Rebel zone. Porter was on the bench in agony.

"I lost communication with my players," he said about the strange finish. "With about one and half minutes in the game we got fouled up on what we were doing. I made a dumb mistake. I didn't communicate very well with my players. They didn't understand what I wanted done."

I told Eric Gaines (a freshman), "The moment it (the ball) hits your hands, pretend you're Sudden Sam. He (Gaines) can shoot with the best."

Porter also had an interesting comparison between UNLV and undefeated and top-ranked University of San Francisco, which bombed the Waves earlier this season.

"I talked with Coach Tarkanian before the game. I felt he could beat USF because of his quickness and style. USF is not that quick and hasn't sent that style of pressure."

Tarkanian, meanwhile, could not explain his team's horrendous shooting night.

"It's so easy for me to stand here and say we were flat," he said. "Sometimes you're flat because the other team outplays you. Give them (Pepperdine) the credit.

"They beat us on the boards and handled our press real well. Were they over their heads? I hope so. They were super. They were awesome. We bring the best out of Matson. He plays a helluva game every time against us."

"I don't think we were ready to play. We've had a streak of too many games we won easy. I thought it was going to be easy. We were fortunate. I'll tell you."

"I'll tell you one thing. The fans who like close games, well, they got one tonight. I like the other kind better."

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