Friday, Nov. 21, 2008 | 2:10 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech talk about the bench's repeat performance of it's Tuesday magic in Thursday's 87-71 victory over Northern Arizona. Plus, Wink Adams and Joe Darger break out of their droughts, and a look ahead at what's on the horizon for the Rebels in this NBA-like stretch to start the season.
- Opponent: North Carolina A&T
- Where: Thomas & Mack Center
- When: Saturday, Nov. 22, 7 p.m.
Joe Darger found his 3-point touch, Rene Rougeau scrapped around and Wink Adams muscled his way into the lane Thursday night as UNLV’s go-to player.
The starting seniors provided the foundation for the Rebels’ 87-71 victory over Northern Arizona before 11,760 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
But the UNLV bench provided more than window dressing for a second consecutive game.
UNLV (3-0) got 33 points, led by Kendall Wallace’s 14, from its reserves. DeShawn Mitchell had 14 points Tuesday, when the substitutes tallied 37.
Fifth-year coach Lon Kruger didn’t get at least 30 points from his bench in consecutive games in either of the past two seasons.
That was one game, Kruger said Wednesday of Tuesday’s reserve production.
“If that happens consistently, then grrreat,” he said. “I think that will become a strength of ours. Right now, the bench is a little unproven, based on experience and age and all.”
It’s proving itself by the game.
The bench prospering against the Lumberjacks (1-2) prompted Rougeau to reference last season’s defeat to eventual national champion Kansas in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“Good teams have good reserves,” he said. “That happened with Kansas last season. They really hurt us with their bench. I think those guys will come through more and more.
“That will show that we’re a mature team, that we belong on the map, that we could be a great team.”
Northern Arizona led once, at 2-1, and UNLV answered by scoring the next 10 points.
During that stretch, Adams scored two of his team-high 18 points on a baseline jumper from the left side on NAU senior guard Josh Wilson, who tried to keep tabs on Adams most of the night.
Wilson matched Adams with 18 points and did a fine job of emulating Adams with hard drives into the lane where he picked up fouls and trips to the free-throw line.
“Obviously, he’s a very good player,” Wilson said. “I tried my best to stay down on him and pressure him. But with any player I guard, I don’t think of who he is or his name or reputation.
“I look at the scouting report, see if he likes to go right or spins. I knew he was their best player, their go-to guy.”
Wilson and the rest of his teammates saw UNLV’s woeful team 3-point shooting of 24.6 percent on that scouting report.
Northern Arizona entered with a 44.1-percent touch beyond the arc.
Buoyed by Wallace’s two 3-pointers late in the first half, the Rebels had a 54-31 lead at intermission thanks to their 7-of-10 shooting from long range.
“We knew very well how they were struggling, 20-something percent, so we came out trying to make them take those shots and keep them out of the lane,” Wilson said.
“They hit their shots very well. That was probably their emphasis, since they were shooting badly, in practice. We probably should have considered that.”
UNLV eked out to a 66-44 lead in the second half on another bomb by Wallace before slipping into a five-minute drought.
NAU whittled its deficit to 12, prompting Kruger to call a timeout 13 seconds before the eight-minute television timeout.
Sophomore guard Tre’Von Willis sailed in to bank a shot high off the backboard to score out of that timeout.
NAU guard Matt Johnson was called for a charge, and players shuffled to their respective benches for the TV timeout. Out of that, Darger drilled a 3-pointer from the left side for a 73-56 lead.
Still, the Lumberjacks kept battling.
After Johnson snuck a layup by Rebels center Darris Santee with 3:24 left, the Lumberjacks had a 13-point deficit.
Kruger, who has been stressing patience in practice, watched Adams and Rougeau and Darger and freshman point guard Oscar Bellfield set up a play with purpose.
Deep into the 35-second shot clock, Santee, who was fed the ball in the left post, powered in a layup over two NAU post players.
Adams stole the inbounds pass, glanced at the perimeter and found Darger, who sank a 3-pointer on the right side for an 82-64 lead.
“I read the inbounds passer’s eyes,” Adams said. “The receiver popped out, and I just kind of ran to it, expecting a pass. He did (throw it), of course.
“And when we can get Joe a wide-open 3-pointer, it’s three points. So I had to get him the ball.”
Darger, who entered the game having hit only three of 13 deep attempts, went 3-for-5 on Thursday.
“I was trying to get back on defense, but I heard the crowd cheer,” he said of Adams’s pass. “I turned around to see that Wink had the ball. I sprinted down, spotted up and Wink found me.
“I’ve struggled, so it feels great to finally hit a couple shots.”
And to watch the second- and third-string Rebels continue progressing.
With a stretch this week against Texas-Pan American, Northern Arizona and North Carolina A&T on Saturday, Kruger can experiment and young players can audition for permanent spots in the rotation.
Mitchell and Wallace have made those impacts.
The key will be getting production from the bench next week at Texas-El Paso, and in upcoming home games against California and Cincinnati or Florida State.
“That’s something we didn’t have last season,” Darger said. “If guys get hurt or fatigued or into foul trouble, we need others to step in night in and night out. We can’t take a step back.”