Rebels rally to overcome Arizona

For 34 minutes Friday night at the Thomas and Mack Center, Gerald Paddio was comatose. He had no idea what to do with a basketball, much less how to shoot it.

But in the final six minutes, Paddio slipped into a totally different state of unconsciousness. He had no idea how to miss.

Paddio’s 16 points (13 in the last 5:48) gave ULV a rise-from-the-dead 92-87 victory over Arizona in the opening round of the preseason National Invitation Tournament.

The third-ranked Rebels advance to the second round on the NIT on Monday and will battle No. 7 Oklahoma at 8:05 p.m. at the Thomas and Mack.

Tickets will be on sale Saturday from noon to 6 p.m.

The Sooners advanced by defeating Bringham Young, 119-110 in Norman, Okla.

Should UNLV win Monday, it will then go to the NIT finals in New York City next Friday and Saturday.

A crowd of 15,065 saw the Rebels erase an 11-point deficit to edge the No. 18 Wildcats.

Paddio was the late arriving side-shooter, but UNLV’s main guns were guard Freddie Banks with 27 points and forward Armon Gilliam with 24 points and eight rebounds.

Paddio struggled in the first half, didn’t score a point and often was out of position on defense.

“For us to be a really good ballclub we need another shooter (other than Banks),” UNLV head coach Jerry Tarkanian said. “We were out of the game until Gerald got hot.”

Arizona, the defending Pacific 10 Conference champions attempting to survive a season without superb point guard Steve Kerr, took the lead at 4:32 of the first half and didn’t trail again until Banks drilled a three-pointer with 2:13 remaining in the contest.

“UNLV is a top-five team and we had them down (11) points,” Wildcats head coach Lute Olson said afterward. “They deserved to win the game. Looking at the amount of effort they put into it, they deserved the victory.”

Olson has just one senior on this year’s squad (Bruce Fraser) and he didn’t play Friday.

The Wildcats placed five players in double figures and were led by junior off guard Craig McMillan, who hit all three of his three-point attempts and finished with 24 points.

Sophomore Anthony Cook added 16 points and a team-high seven rebounds. Junior Tom Tolbert came off the bench to score 13.

Sophomore sensation Sean Elliott wound up with 14 points and took just three shots in the second half.

UNLV junior center Jarvis Basnight pitched in 11 points and a team-high nine rebounds.

Each time the Rebels made a run in the second half, the feisty Wildcats answered, usually with McMillan dropping in another bomb.

Gilliam fouled out with 3:47 left and UNLV found itself trailing 80-74.

That’s when Banks and Paddio took over.

Paddio hit three jumpers on the next five points from long range.

“I told Gerald at the half that he was our guy and we needed him,” Tarkanian said. “He was feeling pretty bad about how he played in the first half.

“The most important thing is that we won the game. The second-most important thing is that Gerald got his confidence back.”

“They destroyed us on the defensive boards,” Olson said. The Rebels outrebounded the visitors 45-39.

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