REBELS BASKETBALL:

UNLV shines in second half after sluggish start

Kruger lights fire at halftime as team downs Texas-Pan American, 73-48

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Justin M. Bowen

The Rebels’ bench cheers on as UNLV pulls away from Texas-Pan American Tuesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Bench to the Rescue

DeShawn Mitchell scored 14 of UNLV's 37 bench points as the Rebels beat Texas-Pan American 73-48 on Tuesday night.

UNLV vs. Texas-Pan American

The Rebels' bench cheers on as UNLV pulls away from Texas-Pan American Tuesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

UTPA POSTGAME: The flow is found

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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech discuss UNLV's offensive sorta-breakout in the second half of a 73-48 victory over Texas-Pan Am on Tuesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center. It was sparked by some tremendous defense and a slew of filthy dunks by freshman DeShawn Mitchell.

Next game

  • Opponent: Northern Arizona
  • Where: Thomas & Mack Center
  • When: Thursday, Nov. 20, 7 p.m.

UNLV basketball players were sluggish Saturday against San Diego and that carried over to the first half Tuesday night against Texas-Pan American.

The Rebels led by only three points at halftime.

Fifth-year coach Lon Kruger had seen enough.

At halftime, Kruger, in a tone and with words that demand attention, told a team that yearns for top-25 national recognition that it wasn’t even looking like the 180th team in the country.

After letting that sink in, the Rebels (2-0) sunk the Broncs (1-1) with an eight-minute blitz to start the second half en route to a 73-48 victory before 11,022 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

“He wasn’t happy, but none of us were,” sophomore guard Tre’Von Willis said of Kruger’s intermission tone and words.

He riled the team up, said senior forward Rene Rougeau.

“He said we weren’t playing like we had something to prove, that we came out and took them for granted,” senior guard Wink Adams said. “We were more aggressive to start the second half.”

A bit more than four minutes into the last half, UNLV had forged a 36-26 cushion on two Rougeau free throws, and a strong driving layup and 3-point shot by freshman point guard Oscar Bellfield.

After sinking a 14-foot jumper along the right baseline to cap that burst, Rougeau had a defensive lapse that Kruger had been talking about.

Pan Am guard P.J. Turner drove by Rougeau for a layup to cut his team’s deficit to eight.

“I have to do a better job guarding the ball,” Rougeau said. “I can’t let guys drive by me. Defense is the biggest thing, because it leads to good offense for us. We have to pick that up.”

When Kruger put Willis in for Bellfield, the Rebels kept picking up momentum and were further boosted by a heads-up play by a newcomer.

The ball became loose and 6-foot-10, 260-pound Rebels freshman Brice Massamba sprawled out on the floor to control it and quickly called for a 30-second timeout.

That happened eight feet in front of a clapping Kruger.

When play resumed, Willis, who had just returned, drilled a 3-pointer from the right corner. Adams hit another 3-pointer from the right side for a 42-30 lead.

The rout was on when sophomore guard Kendall Wallace lofted an alley-oop pass that freshman forward DeShawn Mitchell threw down with dramatic flair.

Thirty seconds earlier, Kruger had put Mitchell in to give Adams a rest as Mo Rutledge hit a pair of free throws.

Wallace, on the right side of the court, showed patience waiting for the play to develop and tossed a perfect lob, to the left of the rim, to Mitchell.

“Kendall knew to get it to him,” Willis said. “That’s a set play. We call it ‘Oop.’ Coach said throw it up and out. ‘Run Oop.’ DeShawn ran out, got it and threw it down.”

The public finally saw the aggressive finisher that Mitchell had shown all of his teammates since they started playing pick-up games before school started.

“He got fired up out there,” Bellfield said. “He got the crowd going wild and kept it going.”

The Rebels led, 46-30, after allowing Pan Am only two layups over the first eight minutes of the second half.

The Broncs missed nine other shots, one of which was blocked by Bellfield, and turned it over twice in that stretch.

Mitchell finished with a team-high 14 points, on 7-for-10 shooting, in 14 minutes.

Not bad for someone who didn’t take off his warm-ups in Saturday’s opener against San Diego.

“I talked to him on the bench, told him to be ready to make some plays,” Rougeau said. “I said, 'take your time and pop up on your jumper.' He showed his athleticism. He shined tonight.”

Whether UNLV did as a whole is arguable. It followed a poor 3-point performance against San Diego (8-for-29, 28 percent) with a worse one against the Broncs (6-for-28, 21 percent).

After the opener, Kruger told his players that he’d go deeper into the bench Tuesday. He did. Eleven players got into the game in the first half.

When walk-on guard Scott Hoffman played the final minutes, all 12 saw action. Kruger figures to keep experimenting Thursday against Northern Arizona and Saturday against North Carolina A&T.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how all this shakes out,” Kruger said.

“We’re still learning about each other,” Bellfield said. “Making good passes and the right passes, getting each other open. We’re just building chemistry right now. It’s a learning process.”

Adams senses the unease in the crowd and feels the tension when the Rebels get careless and sloppy, but he doesn’t want anyone to panic.

“We’re still trying to build chemistry,” Adams said. “Everything’s coming along slower than usual, but it’ll come along. We’re finding ways to win games and hit shots when we need to.

“Hopefully, we’ll start doing that for 40 minutes and it’ll come easily.”

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  1. Lenny - the official crowd numbers have always been exaggerated at UNLV. Not all the season ticket holders show up. My guess is now, instead of 8,000 people coming with 9,500 tickets sold, there's 10,000 people coming, with 11,500 tickets sold. (In its box scores, the LA Times, for example, lists "Tickets sold" instead of "Attendance," which helps with the confusion.)

  2. I thought there were WAAAY more people in attendance Saturday than the announced crowd of 13,500. I thought there was more like 15,000 there. It is just so hard to tell visually.

    Maybe they can report both tickets sold and people through the gate.