Sunday, Dec. 7, 2008 | 2:04 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech talk about UNLV's 64-57 victory Saturday night in Reno, which improved the Rebels to 3-0 this season away from the Thomas & Mack Center. René Rougeau enjoyed a career night, Oscar Bellfield and Tre'Von Willis joined forces successfully after the half and Joe Darger anchored a solid defensive showing.
RENO –- UNLV senior swingman Rene Rougeau worked on his power game all summer. He dunked from the wings with authority in pick-up games and vowed to collect tip-slams, too, this season.
Saturday night, in the most hostile environment so far for the Rebels, Rougeau delivered on that promise to spark UNLV in its 64-57 victory over UNR.
When he dribbled into the lane with a little more than 5 minutes remaining, Rougeau thought he was Moses.
“It definitely parted, for sure,” he said of the wide opening before him. “I was surprised. As soon as I saw that it was open, I had to take my shot and, basically, finish hard.
“It was a physical game. I couldn’t go in and try to get a layup or it would have gotten blocked.”
That had already happened to Rougeau before a raucous crowd of 9,498 – which included a half dozen of his relatives, including his mother – at the Lawlor Events Center.
He didn’t let it happen again as he knifed through the lane, finished strong with a right-handed power slam dunk on the right side and was fouled by Brandon Fields.
Rougeau sank the free throw, and the three-point play boosted UNLV’s advantage to 53-42 with 5:13 left.
The Wolf Pack (3-4) got to within only five points of the Rebels (7-2) the rest of the way.
“Oh my God,” said UNLV sophomore point guard Tre’Von Willis. “Finally! I was talking with him earlier, saying, ‘Hey man, you have to step up big. You have to get some juice in them legs.’
“He said, ‘Gotcha.’ He came through. That was a nice little highlight. That really energized us the rest of the game.”
Rougeau finished with a team-high 19 points and a game-best 13 rebounds.
“I thought Rougeau played great,” said Wolf Pack coach Mark Fox. “His experience showed out there.”
It was the first time this season that Rougeau led the Rebels in scoring, but he still fell a point short of tallying 20 for the first time in a UNLV uniform.
“That’s how it goes,” he said. “It’s early in the season. I’m just happy we got the ‘W.’ More than anything. I have to focus on finishing harder and making even more plays.
“My points will come. I just have to keep hustling and everything will fall into place.”
UNLV takes a break for final exams this week and won’t return to the court until next Sunday, when it plays Western Michigan at the Orleans Arena.
Suffice it to say, the Rebels passed their first real road test in fine fashion by smothering the Wolf Pack guards, especially standout freshman forward Luke Babbitt, with aggressive defense.
Babbitt went 5-for-14 from the field, finishing with 15 points. The way the Rebels switched and trapped and hounded their foes, it looked like they were playing with an extra man.
“Yeah, we were pretty good defensively tonight,” Willis said. “We tried to take some things away. We did that, for the most part.
“We took away their trailer and some wing passes. We really tried to get after them like that. It was a great effort on defense.”
Reno shot only 34 percent from the field, the lowest marksmanship for a UNLV foe this season. And the Pack’s five offensive rebounds were, by far, the fewest the Rebels have yielded to an opponent.
“I can’t sit here and say we had a ton of bad shots,” Fox said. “Even the referee came over to me and said ‘Gosh is there a lid on the basket? Nothing’s dropping in.’ I just feel sick for our fans and our students.”
The Rebels didn’t start out so well. They needed almost four minutes to finally get on the scoreboard, on center Darris Santee’s inside basket.
A bit more than a minute later, they lost senior guard Wink Adams, the rudder of the team, for the rest of the half when he got called for a second foul.
“I could see what plays they were running and how they ran them,” Adams said of the Wolf Pack. “Then again, you want to be out there doing something about it.”
But UNLV stayed close when Willis and freshman guard Oscar Bellfield hit 3-point shots within 74 seconds of each other.
Reno scored the final six points of the first half. But it led, only 22-20. At halftime, Adams said he and his teammates talked about taking the Pack’s best shot and trailing by only two points.
UNLV ripped off an 11-2 run to start the second half and didn’t trail the rest of the way.
Rougeau started that streak with a power dribble through the right side of the lane and a close basket off the glass.
“Rene was all over the place,” said UNLV coach Lon Kruger. “Some good, some bad. But a lot of good. He had nine rebounds at the half, and he’s just active.
“He plays with great enthusiasm and great passion.”
So does Bellfield, who quelled the crowd and provided more energy for the Rebels with four 3-pointers in the second half.
He finished with a career-best 17 points in his fourth start of the season. Willis had started the past five games but overslept and missed the start of Friday morning’s practice in Las Vegas.
“He was clutch,” Rougeau said of Bellfield. “He played like he was a senior tonight. He just kept hitting shot after shot. I’m proud of him. He’s working hard in practice and he deserved to get playing time.
“Coach will go with guys who are playing their heart out.”
Rougeau took the life out of Reno when his heart was nearly even with the rim late Saturday night.