Thursday, Nov. 20, 2008 | 10:30 p.m.
Final, UNLV wins 87-71
The offensive momentum the Rebels built in the second half Tuesday night carried over better than anyone could have expected into Thursday's showdown with Northern Arizona. UNLV used a white-hot first half as the key building block towards an 87-71 victory at the Thomas & Mack Center.
UNLV was led by 18 points from Wink Adams, while Kendall Wallace added a career-high 14 off the bench, including three first-half 3-pointers. Rene Rougeau and Joe Darger each scored 11.
The Rebels led 54-31 at the break, as Wallace hit two late treys. UNLV shot 64.3 percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes and 58.8 percent on the night. Included in that was an 11-of-19 showing from deep, where the Rebels had struggled mightily in their first three showings this season at the Mack.
UNLV's NBA-like stretch continues Saturday with North Carolina A&T coming to town for a 7 p.m. tip. That's followed by a trip to El Paso to face UTEP Monday night.
Stay tuned to www.lasvegassun.com/rebels for full postgame coverage, including photos, video, stories and The Rebel Room: Postgame Edition.
7:57, second half, UNLV leads 70-56
NAU is starting to take more and more risks as the game progresses, and with that, chopped a 22 point lead to 12 before Tre'Von Willis dropped in a layup high off the glass just before the eight-minute media timeout.
Willis has played 10 minutes in the second half after going for just two in the first. At one point, he had three assists to zero turnovers, but now he has four dimes and three giveaways.
But it doesn't look like NAU will be hacking deeper into the deficit anytime soon. Kruger's starters are all on the floor and look very fresh. The new-found depth is starting to show its benefits. Joe Darger cashed a three just out of the timeout, giving him two on the night. As a team, UNLV is 10-of-18 from deep.
11:52, second half, UNLV leads 66-48
Wallace's three just out of the timeout gave him 14 points, which continued to add on a career high. His previous best was nine.
The three-point proficiency isn't just a Rebel thing tonight. Jason McElwain took part in the Saturn Shootout during the last full break, hitting a layup, free throw and 3-pointer on just one try. The crowd exploded on his three make, and the roof would have caved in had he been able to drown the half-court try. Two of his three attempts just barely missed off the rim.
14:57, second half, UNLV leads 63-42
Tre'Von Willis, who only played two minutes in the first half, started the second with a bang, finding René Rougeau twice for nifty assists, and UNLV's offense apparently didn't cool in the halftime locker room.
Joe Darger hit his first three of the game, while Wink Adams hit Rougeau for another bucket inside. The starters may get some well-deserved rest in the final 10 minutes of this game.
Kendall Wallace hit another three out of the media timeout, making him 4-of-5 from deep. Just a year ago the Rebels were clamoring for depth, and now there's guys obviously trying to make a statement for more run.
Halftime, UNLV leads 54-31
It turns out that it was just a brief lull late in the first half, as a surge just before the buzzer pushed UNLV ahead by 23 points at the break. The surge was keyed by a pair of deep threes from Kendall Wallace, who has 11 points on 3-of-4 3-point shooting so far. First, Brice Massamba threw a gorgeous pass from the post to a streaking Wallace for one deep ball, then Oscar Bellfield flipped a pass around a defender so Wallace could cash another.
An impressive half, without question, and one heckuva way for the Rebels to build off of a breakout half of sorts Tuesday night to finish things off.
Jason McElwain made his halftime appearance after a CBS News story about him was played on the videoboard before his introduction. The student section responded with a 'J-Mack' chant after he gave an emphatic 'Go Rebels' into the mic. A nice moment, indeed.
Some numbers of note ...
-UNLV shot 18-of-28 from the floor. That's 64.3 percent for you mathematicians out there. That includes a 7-of-10 showing from three-point range. This comes on the heels of a 19-of-79 showing from deep in the Rebels' first three outings this season.
-NAU is a respectable 12-of-25 from the floor, but the looks have not been nearly as clean as those UNLV is muscling out on their end.
-The Rebels have 11 assists to just four turnovers.
-Tre'Von Willis only played two minutes in the first half. It's worth pointing out that his shoulder was iced the other night after the game, and he may be getting the same rest treatment Wink Adams got the other night in the second half.
This second half ought to be pretty similar to the first. NAU doesn't have the size or depth to probably stage any kind of a wild comeback. That is, of course, unless the Lumberjacks start raining in threes like wild. They led the NCAA in 3-point shooting percentage last season, but were just 2-of-5 in the first half. Good looks, again, were at a premium.
3:33, first half, UNLV leads 40-31
While UNLV's shooting has cooled just a tad - still, 15-of-24 through the brunt of the first half is nothing to cough at - Northern Arizona is starting to get comfortable. Cameron Jones and Josh Wilson drove for back-to-back layins to make it 40-31.
Though this is where UNLV might see the advantage of cycling fresh legs into the game throughout the opening minutes. This game looks like it could be a sprint to the finish. UNLV just may have more depth to throw into the pot than NAU will.
7:18, first half, UNLV leads 37-19
Wink Adams hit his first three-ball of the night just before the game's third media timeout, and UNLV continues to shoot lights-out. The Rebels are 14-of-20 from the floor, and Adams has a game-high 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting.
As for the 3-point shooting, which has been the Rebels' biggest bugaboo so far, Kruger's guys are 4-of-7 so far.
Again, it's hard to say much since this is how most people have expected UNLV to play. I'd say the key is whether the intensity can stay for the full 40 minutes. It hasn't slipped through 12, so that's a positive sign.
11:08, first half, UNLV leads 30-16
By the 12:49 mark in the first half, Lon Kruger had emptied his entire bench. That includes junior walk-on Scotty Hoffman, who is making the first first-half appearance of his career.
UNLV so far is shooting 80 percent from the floor, having hit 12 of 15 shots so far. Seven guys already have points, with 14 of the team's 30 coming off the bench. Mo Rutledge cashed a pair of threes, while Kendall Wallace dropped in a layup off a power drive against two defenders. Plus, the crowd-pleasing DeShawn Mitchell got an open-court two-handed throwdown thanks to a heads-up pass from Brice Massamba.
Really nothing critical to say so far. UNLV is flowing completely.
15:53, first half, UNLV leads 13-3
The Rebels showed something much different in the opening minutes tonight than they have so far this season - They wanted the ball as close to the basket as possible on the offensive end. Instead of opting for 3-point looks, the first two possessions saw the ball get dumped down to Darris Santee, who earned a trip to the stripe the first time and then executed a nice seal on his defender for an easy bucket.
While he's provided the thunder down low, Wink Adams has been the lightning, with a couple of tricky jumpers, including one which came with some contact just before the media timeout.
Oscar Bellfield added a three from the corner, and as usual, the Rebels' early defense on the other end has been solid. Looks like this could be the breakout showing the fans at the Mack have anticipated here in the season's first week.
Don't think the DeShawn Mitchell buzz is still flowing throughout the Thomas & Mack Center? Just 48 hours after the freshman high-flyer put down 14 points thanks to a few huge dunks, a trio of UNLV fans had 'DeShow Time' T-shirts already printed up.
No pressure to keep it up, DeShawn.
But Mitchell was the story two nights ago, as his 14 points came in such a momentum-building fashion that it awoke an offense that's struggled to find a consistent rhythm so far in the young season.
Now the question becomes: Who provides that spark tonight?
In all honesty, it could be any one. It's a pretty safe bet that Lon Kruger will toy around with lineups again tonight with Northern Arizona in town. It's another opponent that UNLV will overmatch, but that fact hasn't kept the first three foes who entered the Mack this season from keeping it close for awhile.
Expect to see Mitchell early on. Kruger probably wants to see how he'll respond now that he's had a taste of success. Maintaining consistency is a key, and while Kruger has the opportunity to see if Mitchell can do that, he'll take advantage of it.
Also, you'll probably see the likes of Kendall Wallace, Brice Massamba and Beas Hamga off the bench early and often.
But also don't forget that the starters need to get back on track. Joe Darger and Wink Adams in particular are trying to snap out of early shooting slumps. Tonight, against a team that fires up more than its fair share of three-balls, the tempo of the game may see UNLV's senior duo try to shoot its way out of it.
Now it's time for the three big predictions.
1) Tonight's breakout star? Brice Massamba. Not only is this a team UNLV has a good height advantage on, but Massamba may use tonight to show just how that big body can be used in the paint.
3) UNLV 82, NAU 58.
Talk to you following tip-off.