Sunday, Nov. 16, 2008 | 2:12 a.m.
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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.
- Opponent: Texas-Pan American
- Where: Thomas & Mack Center
- When: Tuesday, Nov. 18, 7:00 p.m.
- TV: None
- Radio: 1100 AM ESPN Radio
At one point in the final four minutes of Saturday's game between UNLV and San Diego at the Thomas & Mack Center, USD point guard Brandon Johnson headed for the bench during a timeout and looked to be cooked.
He hunched over and put his hands on his knees for several moments, then threw cup upon cup of water on his face.
The senior point guard played all 40 minutes in the Toreros' 65-60 opening day loss to the Rebels and was as productive as just about anyone on the floor, finishing with 14 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals.
San Diego, who returned all five starters from a team that a year ago advanced to the NCAA Tournament's second round, was without question short-handed. Three of those returners - forward Gyno Pomare, guard Trumaine Johnson and guard De'Jon Jackson - were missing in action. Pomare and Johnson, along with reserve forward Clinton Houston, were suspended by coach Bill Grier earlier in the week, while Jackson was out with a knee injury.
And as hard as he tried, Johnson just couldn't will his team over the hump.
"Coach told me that with the players we had, I'd have to play all 40, but with the pressure UNLV got and all the guys they kept switching on me, it kind of wore me down a little bit," Johnson said. "But overall, there's no excuse. You've just got to keep going. It's more mental than anything. I knew the guys needed me to play up to a higher level, and I was trying to give all that I got."
It was nothing new for Johnson, who last year in the WCC Tournament title game against St. Mary's played all 50 minutes of a double-overtime tilt, scoring a career-high 28 points en route to a 75-69 victory.
But this time he was doing so not only in the first game of the year, but with an unexpected supporting cast.
Aside from fellow returning starter Rob Jones - who had 19 points and 10 rebounds - it was a cast of Division-I greenhorns around him in the early going, and it showed as UNLV jumped out to a 12-4 lead just over six minutes into the game. In fact, Johnson was the only Torero to score until a Danny Brown 3-pointer at the 10:28 mark made it 12-9, Rebels.
"Missing some players is definitely a contributor (to the loss)," Jones said. "It's the home game for them. I believe they came out with a lot of energy. We came out a little soft, we just had to pick it up and get back in the game."
San Diego did that, and behind some surprise performances - such as eight points and six boards from Roberto Mafra in his first D-I game and a trio of 3-pointers from reserve guard Danny Brown - the Toreros led by one point with 2:34 to play.
"Those guys came out and battled their asses off," Johnson said. "(Matt) Dorr and (Mafra), this was their first D-I game. I thought they played solid. With all our players coming back, I think we've got a big chance to get back to the tournament again."
Pomare, who made the trip with the team but did not suit up, will be back from his suspension in time for the team's home opener on Tuesday at home against UNR. A timetable for Jackson's return from injury is an unknown, and both Trumaine Johnson and Houston should be back following the team's Thanksgiving weekend trip to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam.
In other words, the Toreros cold be ready for a nice run once league play begins. Plus, this experience will have Bill Grier's team ready for any obstacles the long, draining season might throw their way.
"It kind of makes it easier," Johnson said. "If a player gets hurt, we won't look down."