Published Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009 | 7:58 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009 | 10:33 p.m.
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Final, UNLV wins 77-53
HONOLULU — If UNLV is showing anything in Honolulu this week at the Diamond Head Classic, it's consistency.
Just as it did on Tuesday night against SMU, the Rebels utilized heavy defensive pressure early to neutralize a potent opponent in every way possible. In the end, Lon Kruger's club raced to a 77-53 victory and set up a Christmas Day meeting with Southern Cal for the tournament title.
The Trojans took care of Saint Mary's earlier in the day, 60-49. The two will meet at 6:30 p.m. PST on Friday, with the game airing on ESPN2.
Hawaii turned the ball over 19 times, while UNLV was dominant on the boards, finishing with a season-high 18 offensive caroms.
Derrick Jasper led three Rebels in double figures with 14 points, and also had seven rebounds, three assists and two steals to his credit.
For full coverage of the Diamond Head Classic, stay tuned to lasvegassun.com/rebels.
6:00, second half, UNLV leads 63-42
HONOLULU — Hawaii fans are now starting to jump on the officials for every call and every non-call, creating a wild atmosphere late in a blowout at the Stan Sheriff Center.
But UNLV's focus is on clear display, as the Rebels have remained unfazed and hold a commanding 63-42 lead against the host Warriors.
The most noise came when Hawaii leading scorer Roderick Flemings went down in a heap with a knee injury after being called for a block against UNLV's Anthony Marshall. The crowd grew louder and louder during a break in the action.
However, UNLV has done more of what got the Rebels to this point — stayed disciplined on defense, shared the ball and rebounded well.
The Rebels currently hold a 35-25 rebounding advantage and have forced 17 Hawaii turnovers.
11:40, second half, UNLV leads 55-31
HONOLULU — So far, UNLV is not duplicating its letting off the gas pedal in the second half from last night against SMU.
The Warriors are visibly frustrated with poor body language, some flying elbows and excessive chirping in the refs' ears. And UNLV is not backing down at all on the road.
Derrick Jasper is drawing praise left and right on the ESPN2 telecast, and deservedly so. To this point, UNLV's junior do-it-all guard has 12 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Hawaii's offensive production has seen no spike in the second half. After shooting 23.8 percent from the floor before halftime, the Warriors are 3-of-10 so far since.
The Rebels continue to pound the glass, especially on the offensive end, with 13 of their 31 rebounds being of the offensive variety. That's led to 12 second chance points.
UNLV's season high for offensive boards is 17, with that plateau being reached twice so far. That number could easily be replaced, as UNLV appears to have learned its lesson from yesterday's second-half letdown. If you remember, a 28-point lead on SMU dripped down to 12 in the closing minutes.
Also, the Rebels deserve some credit for completely neutralizing this home crowd right from go. However, the Hawaii band member calling UNLV assistant coach Greg Grensing a Gary Busey look-a-like is pretty classic.
Halftime, UNLV leads 44-21
HONOLULU — Another night, another dominant first half.
ESPN color analyst Doug Gottleib called UNLV the best team on the West Coast, and the Rebels are again playing up to that billing, leading the host Warriors at the break, 44-21.
UNLV relied on suffocating defense in the game's first 20 minutes, and again wound up coming away with plenty of offense as a byproduct.
Last night at halftime, SMU had 13 turnovers to only three assists, and tonight, Hawaii had 11 turnovers to two assists in the opening stanza. UNLV has scored 15 points off of those turnovers, and making matters worse for the Warriors is UNLV's ownership of the offensive glass. UNLV leads the battle of the boards, 24-14, with 11 of those caroms coming on the offensive end.
Here are some other numbers of note from the first half ...
— Hawaii is just 5-of-21 from the floor so far tonight. Roderick Flemings, the team's leading scorer this season, is 1-of-4 with five points to his credit.
— UNLV is 6-of-12 from 3-point range, with Oscar Bellfield and having Tre'Von Willis cashing two apiece so far.
— Hawaii's Petras Belocka is 0-for-3 from the floor with only two points in 14 minutes. He's more frustrated visibly than anyone else on his team so far. If this gets any testier, he could be interesting to watch.
— UNLV has eight assists and only three turnovers so far.
May as well say it now: It looks like it'll be UNLV-USC in the title game at 6:30 p.m. PST on Friday on ESPN2. Should be one heck of a game. I know that sounds cliché, but it will be.
8:32, first half, UNLV leads 24-7
HONOLULU — Hawaii's players are now beginning to get impatient and frustrated by UNLV's in-your-face brand of defense.
The Warriors are completely bothered, and two key miscues helped spur a 9-0 Rebels run just moments ago.
Chace Stanback stole two Hawaii passes in the backcourt, and both led to Justin Hawkins layups in transition.
Moments later, an and-one bucket by Matt Shaw pushed UNLV's lead to 17 points.
Hawaii still can't shoot, plain and simple. The Warriors are 3-of-16 from the floor and have turned the ball over nine times. UNLV is again taking exceptional care of the rock, with only two giveaways so far.
Can UNLV avoid letting off the gas tonight? That might be the most pressing question remaining.
15:01, first half, UNLV leads 5-0
HONOLULU — Sticky defense is again doing the trick early on for UNLV in Hawaii.
By applying tough half-court pressure, UNLV has held host Hawaii to 0-for-9 shooting in the opening minutes in tonight's winner's bracket semifinals.
The Rebels haven't shot much better, going 2-for-7, but have squeezed some tough points inside to take an early 5-0 lead.
Hawaii also has two early turnovers to its credit.
UNLV is really only a couple of close misses away from this one being a blowout already. Kendall Wallace had a pair of misses just rim out from deep.
As for the crowd, it's not nearly as dense as it was last night, when 7,119 showed up to see the Warriors take out Charleston.
My guess tonight? About 5,000.
HONOLULU — One thing is for sure: When UNLV takes the floor on Friday for its final game at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu, it'll draw a quality opponent.
That much we learned on Tuesday, when St. Mary's and Southern Cal advanced to the semifinals on the other side of the winner's bracket.
Now the question is whether the Rebels (11-1) play for a tournament title or for third place. The championship game tips off at 6:30 p.m. PST on Friday, while the third place contest is at 4:30 p.m. PST.
In Wednesday's first semifinal, Southern Cal (7-4) got a boost from the arrival of sophomore forward Leonard Washington in uniform. The Trojans inflicted damage early with their size and brawn, slowing down a speedy Saint Mary's (10-2) club, advancing to the title game with a 60-49 win.
The Gaels came in averaging more than 80 points per game, while the Trojans were barely scoring over 60, relying on a defensive, tough style of play under first-year coach Kevin O'Neill.
But Washington makes a good team that much better.
The 6-foot-7, 230-pound Lake Charles, La., native was hoping to play in USC's Diamond Head opener against Western Michigan, but his first semester transcripts did not come across in time, which would have cleared him for action. They got to O'Neill just in time for Wednesday's game, though, as he had 10 points and six boards for the Trojans.
Senior guard Mike Gerrity, in his third game of eligibility following his transfer from UNC-Charlotte, led the Trojans in scoring for the second day in a row with 17 points.
Most important, though, was that USC took Saint Mary's completely out of its game. The Gaels shot just 30.2 percent from the floor (16-of-53) and turned the ball over 15 times.
USC has now won six in a row and is getting hot just at the right time, with conference play approaching.
UNLV hopes to get the shot at throwing O'Neill's club off, now.
The Rebels are warming up as we speak for tonight's showdown with host Hawaii. The game tips off at 8:30 p.m. PST and can be seen on ESPN2.
The Warriors took out Charleston last night, 84-71, and won partly in thanks to incredible homecourt advantage. 7,119 spectators showed up in the 10,300-seat arena.
Bob Nash's club improved to 6-4 on the season and has the size to try and bang UNLV around a bit.
All of that said, here are tonight's three keys ...
1) The Rebels need to maintain their edge. On Tuesday, even during warmups, it was clear that UNLV was here on business. No joking around, all scowls and mean mugs. That attitude carried over as the opener with SMU was practically over before it started. Tonight, having that is probably more important than last night since the Rebels also need to neutralize what will probably be a pretty crazy home crowd.
2) Chace Stanback must stay hot. The sophomore forward is right now UNLV's most reliable, fully healthy scorer. With Tre'Von Willis still a bit slowed and visibly hurting with a slightly sprained left ankle, Stanback needs to be UNLV's rock on the offensive end. He's 26-of-48 from the floor in UNLV's last five games, and has scored in double figures in all of them.
3) One thing UNLV has been great about on the defensive end this year is neutralizing an opponent's leading scorer, or the guy who essentially the central nervous system of the opposition's attack. Tonight, it's 6-foot-7 forward Roderick Flemings, who already has two triple-doubles to his credit. If Stanback can stick to him well, UNLV only helps its chances.
Prediction and 'Pick to click'
As for a prediction, I'm going with UNLV, 74-69. My pick to click is sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield, who never really found his groove last night after two quick fouls put him on the bench in the game's first minute. He rarely has two bad outings in a row. I like Oscar to bust out.
Talk to you after tip-off.