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UNLV escapes with 65-60 win over San Diego in season-opener

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Justin M. Bowen

UNLV’s Wink Adams lays it in for two in the first half of today’s game against San Diego.

Learning While Winning

It may not have been perfect, but the Rebels were able to eek out a 65-60 win over San Diego in their home opener on Saturday.

UNLV gets by San Diego

UNLV forward Darris Santee and San Diego forward Rob Jones fight for a loose ball during the first half of their game Saturday, Nov. 15, 2008. Launch slideshow »

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The Rebel Room

An ugly win, but a win nonetheless

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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech discuss UNLV's ugly-but-successful afternoon in the Thomas & Mack Center, as the Rebels opened the 2008-09 regular season with a 65-60 victory over a short-handed San Diego squad. Plus, postgame sound from Lon Kruger, Wink Adams, René Rougeau and Tre' Von Willis.

Box score

Next game

  • Opponent: Texas-Pan American
  • Where: Thomas & Mack Center
  • When: Tuesday, Nov. 18, 7:00 p.m.
  • TV: None
  • Radio: 1100 AM ESPN Radio

Final, UNLV wins 65-60

For the second time this week, it was far from pretty, but UNLV escaped yet another home scare. This time, it counted, as the Rebels begin the season 1-0 on the heels of a 65-60 victory over San Diego.

Wink Adams led the Rebels with 19 points Saturday afternoon at the Thomas & Mack Center, while Oscar Bellfield, starting his second straight game at the point, had 13 points, six assists and just two turnovers. His one-handed slam at the 6:04 mark in the second half put UNLV up by six, but the Rebels failed to connect on a field goal attempt the rest of the way. They were forced to win on free throws and defense.

Adams hit four free throws in the final minute as the Rebels prevailed and will next face Texas-Pan American Tuesday night at 7 p.m. in the Mack.

Brandon Johnson led the shorthanded Toreros with 14 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals.

For full postgame coverage, stay tuned to www.lasvegassun.com/rebels.

3:37, second half, UNLV Leads 57-56

At the 6:04 mark, it looked like UNLV was on the verge of putting pesky San Diego away for good. That was when Oscar Bellfield curled around a Brice Massamba screen to rise up and throw home a one-handed slam. It gave the Rebels a six-point lead at the time, and the Thomas & Mack Center got as loud as it's been all day.

But San Diego has scrapped back behind its bull of a point guard, Brandon Johnson, who now has 12 points, five assists and four fouls. But now the game is starting to get to the point where both teams are going so hard that the whistles are growing in abundance. Wink Adams sunk a pair for UNLV to give him a team-high 15 points, but Tre'Von Willis missed a pair, and it's a one-point game at 57-56 as we head into the final four minutes.

The Rebels have certainly looked better today as a whole than they did against Washburn, but they're far from in the clear.

One thing worth pointing out is how gassed Brandon Johnson is. Heading into the last timeout, he stood for a good 10 seconds straight with his hands on his knees, hunched over. He then threw a few cups worth of water on his face on the bench. He has yet to sit today.

7:58, second half, UNLV leads 47-45

Joe Darger finally busted the slump and hit a three from the corner, but San Diego continues to be unfazed. The Rebels' current lead has come thanks to two free throws from Brice Massamba.

Speaking of Massamba, he's been the only one to spell Darris Santee off the bench so far today, as Beas Hamga has yet to remove his warmups.

Right now, the Rebels have an interesting lineup out on the floor, using three guards in Wink Adams, Tre'Von Willis and Oscar Bellfield. Lon Kruger's obviously in the mood to pressure the heck out of the ball.

11:29, second half, USD leads 43-42

It's going to be an even game from here on out, as USD is now believing that as shorthanded as its roster is, they've got a chance to win this game.

The fact that shots just won't drop for the Rebels certainly has helped, too.

While UNLV is missing jumper after jumper, USD's Brandon Johnson and Roberto Mafra have paced the comeback. Johnson has eight points and four assists, the last of which was for a two-handed Mafra jam.

You have to wonder if Joe Darger is still nursing some back pain, and now you also have to think the same about Wink Adams, who landed hard on the small of his back after a drive to the bucket a few moments ago. He came back into the game but has come up short on a pair of shot attempts since.

15:40, second half, UNLV leads 39-33

Oscar Bellfield continues to be a pest defensively, having just helped force a backcourt violation call against the Toreros. UNLV capitalized with a pair of Darris Santee free throws, giving the junior big man five points and five boards.

They had a chance to extend the lead a bit, but Joe Darger was off on a 3-point attempt from the corner. He's now 1-of-6 from the floor, continuing his early season offensive struggles. Granted, it's just the second game action so far, but Darger's frustration showed a bit after the miss. He snapped his head on his way to the bench for the TV timeout and added an expletive. Can't repeat it, this is a family blog. It was just a bit odd coming from Darger, typically coolheaded.

Halftime, UNLV leads 34-29

Oscar Bellfield hit his third 3-point bucket of the game just out of the final timeout of the half, then fed Mareceo Rutledge for a streaking layup off of a turnover, and a Rutledge steal-and-score capped a quick 7-0 run by the Rebels which woke things up a bit offensively. San Diego's Brandon Johnson hit three free throws at the end of the half to pull USD within five at the break.

Here are some numbers of note at the break.

-Wink Adams and Bellfield scored nine points each, and are responsible for four of UNLV's five treys. As a team, UNLV is 5-of-18 from deep. That's an improvement from the 1-of-11 showing they had in Tuesday's exhibition in the first 20 minutes.

-The Rebels had 11 assists to five turnovers, while San Diego had five assists to nine giveaways.

-Tre'Von Willis was solid again in his role off the bench, with three points on 1-of-5 shooting, but more importantly one assist and zero turnovers. His defensive energy was big.

-Behind a combined 15 points from Rob Jones and Danny Brown - usually not top scorers for USD - the Toreros answered UNLV's hot start. They've also held pace on the boards, trailing UNLV 19-18 in that category.

UNLV is going to have its work cut out in the second half, as San Diego responded nicely to the Rebels' heavy defensive pressure from the early moments. That was when you could see how uncomfortable some first-time starters were for the Toreros.

One of the questions we talked about before the game, though, has been answered. Bellfield looks like he has what it takes to start at point guard. You can just count Tuesday as a case of the freshman jitters.

1:49, first half, UNLV leads 27-26

In a situation where they so badly needed the second tier guys to step up, the likes of Danny Brown and Rob Jones are doing just that for San Diego, as the Toreros have clawed back to within a point late in the first half.

Brown's found his spots and is 3-of-3 from 3-point range for San Diego, and Jones has scored a couple of buckets off of backdoor cuts. Right now, UNLV doesn't look like the same team offensively that it was in the early moments, as they're firing off more 3-point attempts and not drilling it inside nearly as much. Wink Adams, though, is the main reason they're still ahead. He has nine points and three boards at the moment and has hit two key jumpers to stem mini-runs by San Diego.

7:57, first half, UNLV leads 17-14

Thanks to a pair of three-pointers from senior guard Danny Brown, the entire San Diego squad appears to have loosened up some. Roberto Mafra stuffed a jam on the baseline to cap a 10-3 Torero run that has them back in this game.

UNLV's starting to be plagued by a familiar illness - shots just not going down. Mareceo Rutledge recorded three boards in a two-minute stretch to keep a couple of possessions alive, but UNLV is no longer living off of defensive momentum. They could really use a quick run to re-establish their dominance from the opening minutes.

11:40, first half, UNLV leads 12-4

Tre'Von Willis spelled Oscar Bellfield, and the Rebels have yet to miss a beat between the two point guards. Willis made an impact right from go, sticking on San Diego guard Devin Ginty so tough that not only did he poke a ball loose, which Ginty recovered, but he forced him into an awful pass which resulted in a fast break opportunity for UNLV.

Willis took control from Rene Rougeau and fired a deep bounce pass to Wink Adams, who slipped in for a layup for his first points of the season.

Five different Rebels are responsible for the team's five buckets so far, while no one other than Brandon Johnson's gotten anything to fall for USD. Johnson is 2-for-6, while the rest of the team is 0-for-6.

15:10, first half, UNLV leads 10-2

Two main observations from the first five minutes of the season opener ...

-Oscar Bellfield looks far more comfortable than he did in Tuesday's exhibition. It's only natural, he's just a kid. So far, Bellfield's been the driving force behind UNLV's 10-2 lead just under five minutes in. He's slipped a pair of assists inside to Rene Rougeau and Joe Darger, and then responded to the Toreros' first bucket with a three from up top. He looks very good.

-The Rebels' defense has been the difference, without question. The offense is feeding off of it. San Diego didn't get its first points until the 15:43 mark, and has been forced into uncomfortable looking deep shots with nothing available inside.

The Toreros sorely miss Gyno Pomare, that's pretty obvious.

Was it a fluke? Was Washburn really that good? Is Oscar Bellfield the guy to have starting at the point?

All of those questions were floating above the Thomas & Mack Center floor following Tuesday's 18-point exhibition win against the Ichabods, and they all could be answered to an extent today as the Rebels face San Diego in the regular season opener.

Oddly, as we're 30 minutes from tip-off, there's a bit less energy in the Mack today than there was the other night, but then again they had the Legends Game going on Tuesday.

San Diego obviously comes in limping. The Toreros return all five starters this year from a team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament a year ago and upset fourth-seeded UConn. But three of them are out today - Senior forward Gyno Pomare, sophomore guard Trumaine Johnson and junior guard De'Jon Jackson. Pomare, Johnson and reserve guard Clinton Houston are all suspended, while Jackson has a lingering knee injury.

That said, this is a team ripe for UNLV to bust out against.

The Rebels struggled against constant man-to-man pressure Tuesday night, and offensively had a tough time getting shots to fall in a gym they hadn't practiced in for nearly two weeks thanks to the PBR Finals being in town.

Anyways, time to get onto today's three big predictions ...

1) I used to play the 'pick to click' contest with my uncle and cousins as a kid on the way to White Sox games growing up, and it's time to bring it back. Today, I'm going with Joe Darger, who struggled to a 1-for-4 showing from deep on Tuesday. He's looking comfortable now that he can float the perimeter again. As for the main man in charge, Rob Miech, he's going the safe route with Wink Adams, who scored a game-high 27 points on Tuesday. Really thought he'd take Tre'Von Willis. I know I almost did.

2) Darris Santee will have what I believe will turn into his typical stat line - 4 points and 12 rebounds. A blue-collar guy who will get plenty of rebounds and score some slop points here and there, he could be key in taking advantage of a depleted San Diego frontcourt.

3) UNLV 74, San Diego 54. Talk to you after tip-off.

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  1. 9 points, 5 assists, 1 steal, 0 turnovers at the half for Oscar.

  2. Yeah, he looks much, much, MUCH more comfortable than he was Tuesday. His shot release is much quicker than you'd expect from a frosh, too.

  3. I hate to say it but this does not look like a MWC championship team to me.

  4. Dude first game, calm down.

  5. It's the first game, Rebinreno. Lets bring that comment back up in mid-January :)

  6. It wasn't too early for you to declare UNLV the MWC champs based on pre-season poles and all the other media BS.

  7. Utah lost to a D2 team. I think they should just give up and not play a single game the rest of the season.

  8. Why should the Utes give up?
    are you trying to compare my comment that the Rebs appear to not be in top-of-MWC shape to the Utes loss to a d-2 team?
    look the Rebs are not playing like a MWC champion in this game.
    It's true.
    I love em but it looks like they have a lot of work to do. I think people bought into the pre-season hype too much.
    Lets hope they get it together!

  9. Last season UNLV didn't look close to a tourny team to start the season.

  10. RebinReno, The preseason MWC rankings were based on the coaches and media, and the last 2 years did not look like a championship team the first few games either, but guess what??? they still won. We can't help our pre season rankings. Defense was WAY BETTER this time, and unlike every other team in Division 1 basketball, we did not schedule an easy win for the opening game. Why dont you take 10 mins and celebrate an opening victory, and quit your bitching.

    I like the lineup of both Bellfield and Willis, with Adams, Darger and Rugeau. Darger is used to playing the big men, and the defense that way is way better.

    GO REBELS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. We always struggle against zone, and San Diego mixed it up, they played a 2-3, a 2-3 matchup, a 1-3-1, and a 3-2. Honestly it's the best gameplan to bring against us right now as we don't feed the post and didn't feed the post all of last year. We settle for threes and pass the ball around the perimeter.

    To attack a zone you have to have good spacing and either feed the ball into the post, dribble and dish or kick out, or skip pass against the flow of the zone. We didn't really do much of any of that well this game. San Diego, even limited as they were with injuries and suspensions, are an upper echelon WCC team...a conference that as a whole has had a lot better post season success than the MWC has the past few years.

    Take it for what it was: a tough win against a well coached very prepared (though understaffed) team from the top of a good basketball conference and lets get fat on some cupcakes!

  12. you pretty much summed it up couev,

    The zone is what stalled us. USD did a REALLY good job mixing up their D. The Rebs needed more penetrate and kick/dish against it and to feed the inside more against the gaps. Too much settling for 3's (even though it was the eventual 3's by Darger & Wink that took them out of it). I'm sure these guys haven't seen nearly enough zone in practice, but that will change now!

    Take it at face value.... USD is a capable, well coached team that BROUGHT BACK EVERYBODY FROM LAST SEASON and will be back in the tournament this year. Remember the game we had against them last year was just as close as this one, and that was after we already had a few cupcakes!.... I loved the lineup with Bellfield, Wink, Willis, Rougeau, and Darger too

  13. USD could'nt even play their first string players due to suspension, yet Kruger's team still almost lost. Way to go. Kruger was outcoached once again. Luck does not last forever and i'm sad to say but Krugers might have run out.

  14. Rebfan, relax on your chicken little routine; save it at least for when we, *gasp*, lose like we will several times this year, like every UNLV basketball team has done in the entire existence of the program. We have some serious room for improvement, but the sky isn't falling yet.