LIVE GAME BLOG — FINAL:

UNLV falls to USC in Diamond Head Classic finale, 67-56

Rebels unable to crack Trojans’ defense, now 12-2 entering MWC play

Updated Friday, Dec. 25, 2009 | 9:16 p.m.

USC vs UNLV

In the finals of the Diamond Head Classic, UNLV fell to USC, 67-56. The Rebels closed the non-conference season with a 12-2 record.

UNLV vs. USC

Southern California forward Leonard Washington fends off UNLV guard Kendall Wallace (2) for a rebound in Friday's finals of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. Launch slideshow »

Game Preview: UNLV vs USC

UNLV players and coaches preview the Diamond Head Classic championship game against USC coming up on Friday.

Greene's Keys

Las Vegas Sun reporter Ryan Greene gives his three keys to UNLV beating USC in the Diamond Head Classic championship game.

Final, USC wins 67-56

HONOLULU — UNLV was flying through the Diamond Head Classic bracket up until Christmas Day.

Then it hit a maroon and gold wall. USC imposed its defensive will right from go in knocking off the Rebels, 67-56, in Friday's championship game.

Lon Kruger's club now finishes non-conference play at 12-2 and has 11 days off before the start of Mountain West Conference play on Jan. 6 at BYU.

UNLV faced a 14-point halftime deficit after playing much of the first half without Derrick Jasper, who picked up two fouls in the game's first two minutes. The Rebels could never crack the code, and for the afternoon were 17-of-50 from the floor and 5-of-22 from 3-point range.

Junior guard Tre'Von Willis, who against USC was held without a field goal for the first time all season, was named to the all-tournament team. The tournament MVP was USC guard Mike Gerrity, who had 13 points against the Rebels and 17 in each of the Trojans' first two outings.

For full postgame coverage, including stories, photos, video, stats and The Rebel Room: Postgame Edition, stay tuned to lasvegassun.com/rebels.

3:28, second half, USC leads 59-48

HONOLULU — UNLV is finding success in forcing turnovers and bad USC possessions with solid backcourt traps, but they're coming a bit too late, as missed 3-pointers have hurt the Rebels of late.

UNLV trails USC, 59-48, with just over three minutes to go in the Diamond Head Classic title game, and it appears the Rebels will head into their 11-day break before Mountain West Conference play at 12-2.

The Rebels are only 15-of-43 from the floor, 5-of-19 from 3-point range and have turned the ball over 13 times with only eight assists to their credit.

Oscar Bellfield leads UNLV with 15 points, but no one else has scored more than six as it's been a far from fluid night so far for Lon Kruger's club.

Barring a miracle late, this is going to be a tough one for UNLV to head into the break off of.

13:25, second half, USC leads 50-34

HONOLULU — UNLV has toughened up some on the offensive end to start the second half, but the production hasn't made much of a difference on the scoreboard.

Mike Gerrity, Marcus Johnson and Dwight Lewis have each added tough buckets inside to help the Trojans keep the Rebels at bay so far.

Oscar Bellfield has a couple of crafty makes from in close to his credit, but UNLV's other offensive motors — Derrick Jasper and Tre'Von Willis — have yet to score today. They're a combined 0-for-7 from the floor so far today.

The opportunities are getting fewer and fewer for the Rebels to get back into this one. A potential path might be at the free throw line. The whistles are staying tight, and UNLV might need to take some lumps inside and draw some whistles to start chipping away at this deficit some more.

Halftime, USC leads 39-25

HONOLULU — If UNLV hopes to hold on to its national ranking, a second half pretty much opposite of the first will be needed in Honolulu.

Thanks to sweltering defense and consistency on the other end, USC has built a 39-25 lead on UNLV, sparked by a 16-2 run late in the first half.

The run was highlighted by a gorgeous inbounds pass by USC point guard Mike Gerrity under his own hoop. He threw the ball the length of the court, finding Dwight Lewis in stride for an and-one layup.

On the UNLV side, Derrick Jasper spent all but one minute on the bench after picking up two quick fouls. In his place, Oscar Bellfield was the only Rebel who consistently went to the iron against USC's tough interior defense.

Here are some other numbers of note from the first half ...

— UNLV is just 8-of-26 from the floor in one of its ugliest offensive halves of the season. That includes a 3-of-12 showing from deep. Meanwhile, USC is only taking smart shots, going 14-of-30 from the field so far and 3-for-5 from deep.

— Three Rebels — Jasper, Anthony Marshall and Chace Stanback — have two fouls apiece.

— Gerrity so far has 10 points, two assists and no turnovers for the Trojans, and backcourt traps on him haven't netted any open floor opportunities for the Rebels.

— Marcus Johnson, who came in averaging 8.8 points per game for USC, has a game-high 12 at the break on 5-of-8 shooting.

— UNLV is out-rebounding USC, 18-14

— USC only averages 60.3 points per game. 39 in a first half is a bit out of character.

7:47, first half, USC leads 19-14

HONOLULU — UNLV's guards are penetrating the lengthy USC defense, but no one is showing much of a desire to pull a trigger. USC has taken advantage so far and holds a 19-14 edge.

The Trojans, however, suffered a key blow just minutes ago. Sophomore forward Leonard Washington went up to try and block a Chace Stanback dunk attempt. He got the swat, but turned his right ankle on the way down. He went to the bench, was re-taped and is now checking back into the game. We'll see if he's the same.

Meanwhile, UNLV is just 5-of-16 from the floor and has five turnovers already mid-way through the first half.

Lon Kruger is running several different guys out there as fouls pile up. Only Stanback and Derrick Jasper have two to their credit, but it looks like UNLV will have to last for a while with make-shift lineups.

15:36, first half, USC leads 6-5

HONOLULU — Defensive intensity is high on both ends of the floor, and the refs are calling the game as if they knew that would be the case.

UNLV and USC have combined to draw seven whistles in just over four minutes of play so far in the Diamond Head Classic title game, and UNLV's Derrick Jasper has suffered more than anyone.

It took him just over a minute to get called for a foul twice, meaning he'll probably be on the shelf until the second half.

Meanwhile, USC's Marcus Johnson is responsible for all six points on his team's end of the scoreboard. Matt Shaw has a deep three for the Rebels, while Chace Stanback hit a pair of free throws before heading to the bench in place of Steve 'Chop' Jones.

Pregame

HONOLULU — UNLV has used the term 'business trip' repeatedly in discussing this week's stay in Honolulu for the Diamond Head Classic. And with two blowout victories under its belt, Lon Kruger's team has proven that the focus is there.

Now, after a day away from game action on Christmas Eve, the Rebels can call the trip a success with one more triumph.

UNLV (12-1) will technically be the home team today when it faces USC (7-4) in the inaugural tournament title game.

Coming into this week, many thought that if all went to plan, the Rebels would face Saint Mary's on Friday before boarding a red-eye back to Las Vegas.

But you can't say Southern Cal hasn't earned its spot in the title game. By completely taking the favored Gaels out of their comfort zone in Wednesday's semifinal, the Trojans won their fifth straight and have found a nice groove under first-year coach Kevin O'Neill.

Their style is pretty simple: Use a strict eight-man rotation to slow the game down, attack you on the glass and, in general, bang you around, keeping the game low-scoring and ugly.

UNLV isn't quite that down-and-dirty, and so far has smoked both SMU and host Hawaii by playing sweltering defense in the backcourt and scoring in bunches.

Safe to say, whoever imposes their style and will today will have a pretty hefty upper hand.

I know I did my three keys to this game on video yesterday on the site, but here's another rundown for those of you who didn't catch them ... which I'm sure is a lot of folks. Trust me, no hard feelings ...

1) UNLV needs another rebounding performance like the one it got on Wednesday against Hawaii. In that contest, the most important number turned out to be UNLV's season-high 18 offensive boards. The Rebels produced 16 second-chance points and outscored the host Warriors in the paint by a wide margin at 32-18. Southern Cal will wind up presenting one of the biggest, most imposing frontcourts UNLV faces all year. Between Nikola Vucevic, Alex Stepheson and Leonard Washington, the Trojans could wind up carbon-copying how Kansas State defended UNLV back on Dec. 12 in taking control of this game and keeping it at O'Neill's desired pace.

2) The Rebels need a good showing from their bench and have to flex their muscle in terms of overall depth. Southern Cal's starters are averaging more than 33 minutes per game so far in Honolulu, while no one in a UNLV uniform has yet to log more than 29 in a game this week. I know the day off yesterday for both teams could be an equalizer in that department, but still, you'd have to think that UNLV's strength in numbers has to give Lon Kruger an advantage. It could also come into play if the refs have a tight whistle, which has been the case for much of this tournament.

3) A big game from sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield is needed. He'll handle much of the defensive responsibility against USC's Mike Gerrity, who has been the spark behind the Trojans' recent five-game surge. In three games since becoming eligible at the end of the fall semester, he's averaging 15.3 points, 4.7 assists and four rebounds per game. If Bellfield can get in his kitchen, it takes away much of the flow USC has shown on the offensive end of late.

Prediction and 'Pick to Click'

As for a prediction, UNLV is playing its best ball right now and has to have somewhat fresher legs across the board. That said, I'm taking the Rebels to win, 71-62. I picked Bellfield to click last time out on Wednesday, and I'll do the same again.

Talk to you after tip-off.

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Previous Discussion: 27 comments so far…

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  1. How many 3's are they going to keep shooting. Lon needs to take a chance and put Jasper and Stanback back in before we are down by 20

  2. wtf is going on boys.... they are dictating the entire game. wake up. ive been a chopper supporter... but he is looking like a huge liability. i do like shaw and masamba out there together.... ugh... lets crawl back and make this a game.

  3. Wow, SoccerFanatic. It was one half. Tell us how you really feel ...

  4. What a pathetic performamce. We are totaly overmatched. With no inside game this is what we can expect for the rest of the year.

    Reality has now set in. We are not a top twenty team. I hope Q. Thomas will bring us something from the inside next year.

  5. Well said SoccerFan. We played roughly 3 good minutes of UNLV Runnin' Rebels basketball. Terrible. Absolutely terrible. I haven't seen our guys play this poorly since the exhibition game. Pathetic. We better pull our heads out before we go into Mormonland and New Mexico. Two extremely hard places to win with no momentum nor pride after that game.

    I would also like to comment that nothing went our way. Everything was falling for University of Spolied Children and no shots were going in for us. Huge disappointment.

  6. Kenny, completely agree about Jones and Wallace. I told my dad we were going to be down by 10 with that line-up in the first half. Of course it was much worse.

    What was Wallace's stats tonight? I never seen such a slow, poorly skilled player get so much playing time. I could see if Wallace shot a much higher %, but he doesn't. Hitting 3's in practice and in games are two differn't things.

  7. I agree. Some of those 3's Wallace did looked like CRAP! :-( He made what, maybe 2 of 20. Hell, any hobo off the street could go that. :-(

  8. Well, within the next 4 games we will see: if this is a repeat of last year (throw away talent) OR a team that is hungry to learn from their mistakes and wants to be REMEMBERED.

  9. They have 11 days to work on penetrating to the hole and taking less 3's. Any elementary school kid can hit 5 out of 22 on ANY given day

  10. As I said, it is their choice if they want to be remember ed or want to be another underachiever like last year's team.

    They have the talent to go to the Sweet 16 easy. All it takes is some motivation, that is it. When this time plays to their 100% potential, their are probably only 5-6 teams that they couldnt play with.

  11. Major issues with this team shown in their two losses. One, they can not play against atheltic teams who can be physical. Two, the other teams small forward is more physical than our center. This team will live and die by the three. Going into conference play I see them as the third best team and outside looking in for the NCAA's. They need to win the conf tourney once again. NM and BYU are better "complete" teams. SDSU is a sleeper with their talent. Until UNLV can get a guy down low who can control the paint and score downlow consistently, games like USC and KSU will happen year in and year out...

  12. Rebs arent too far from being a legit top 25 team. Rebs have a solid core of guards. Problem is they have zero big men. This team needs 2-3 guys down low who can rough up people and control the paint. When the shots arent falling, its a great luxury to have someone down low to throw it down to for scoring. This team needs that more than anything. Time to throw the towel in on Massamba and Santee.

  13. This team does not have enough high level athletes to compete against top echelon NCAA basketball teams. Their big men lack athleticism as well as the size needed to be an elite college program.

    Ironically, in a season that holds the most potential for sucess during Lon Kruger's tenure, this could be the begining of the end of his coaching career at UNLV.

  14. shooting, shooting, shooting. 34% is ridiculous! simple, uncontested jumpshots and we're throwing up bricks. less than 25% from 3-pt land. maybe sufferin' can go back to working for Kruger and teach these kids how to shoot? he seems to know everything else about the game.

    I'm pretty sure you all will be proven wrong with USC. they are ridiculously athletic and will make noise in the Pac-10 (albeit in a down year) and could easily make the NCAA's. playing against 8 in the first few minutes didn't help either, 5 fouls in the first 3 minutes(?). really, I haven't seen more ticky-tac fouls in a long while.

    the nice thing is that most of the MWC isn't nearly as athletic as USC is. we'll be fine in conference and could easily win the tourney for the automatic bid. when it comes to NCAA's, I think we'll be there and whether we move on will be strictly based on matchups. we're certainly not looking like we'll shoot our way through.

    by the way, can someone please explain to me why Chopper is playing so much? he shot ok tonight but he's a huge liability if he switches to guarding a big in the key. develop J-Hawk, he's actually part of our future.

  15. don't give up on them just yet, folks. Kruger's a pretty darn good coach, he just doesn't have a decent big. Shaw is still playing himself into shape. that tire around his belly is getting smaller by the day. why he ever was allowed to build that tire, I don't know.

    Massamba's terrible, and Santee is too spotty. I'm curious if either Lopez or Buckley will be able to help. QT can't do it alone.

    one nice thing about all this is that Stanback and Jasper are taking a larger role. I'm pretty sure those guys are just scratching the surface.

  16. Rebs are very talented at guard and need big men period. Thomas is one step in the right direction. Lopez is 200 pounds, he will not bang up people down low. Buckley is another 210 pound big man. Rebs need a couple of 6'10'' - 6'11'' 250 pound big men who will control the paint and rough up anyone who tries to attack them. Watching Steve Jones get posted by a 6'7'' 230 pound forward is not a good sign. Top programs have big men who can score down low and control the paint. Cant be a consistent top 15 team living off of the 3pt shot.

  17. usc is not a bad team at all they beat tenn,also I think theyll make a run in the pack 10

  18. he's never had a post game offensively. that's not the type of offense he has designed. adeife and what's-his-face "second coming of Keon" were supposed to save us all but they whined and left. hopefully Lopez, QT and Buckley will be upgrades from those guys. things happen when you're building a program so now we wait, and deal with what we've got until then. I doubt we'll ever have a 20-10 big man here, that's not the style of offense.

    I do agree that the bigs we do have are mercurial at best. I'm not happy with any of them, but that doesn't mean I'm giving up on Kruger and the Rebels. let's hope that help is on the way... until then, it's small ball. it's fun to watch if we shoot halfway decent, and conference play should be a blast.

    the fact that SC played 7 guys doesn't make a difference to me. those 7 guys are crazy athletic (transfers from some pretty legit programs - UNC, UConn!), and the game's televised so they get tons of breaks. we didn't turn them over much tonight and couldn't speed them up to tire them out. we were pretty off tonight, lackadaisical at the beginning and bad fouls at the beginning threw it off even more. gerrity's only played 3 games this year. he shouldn't be tired. in fact, none of them should because they're 18-23 year olds who SHOULD be able to run for 40 minutes. they packed it in on D and utilized their length because we couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. that doesn't take a lot of energy.

  19. Lackluster effort on both sides of the floor....lazy defense and lazy shot selection. We can kiss the top 25 goodbye for the rest of the year unless they dominate conference play.

  20. Not saying Rebs need a 20-10 big man. They need a couple of big men who can control the paint, be physical and score down low when needed. Just find it interesting their two loses were against teams with size and power that attacked them. USC's small forward had more power than Rebs big men.

  21. @rebs101 - unfortunately, there aren't too many good 6'10", 250 lb players out there. the ones that do exist are going to the high elite programs. I completely agree with you but I think we've got a ways to go for that. the skinnier guys can (hopefully) run and complement our more frenetic style of D. they've got to be able to step out and switch on screens without being embarrassed. Lopez and Buckley will put on some weight but that takes time. man, I would kill to see a Keon-style block from someone other than 6'3" AM!

    we also need more than one guy who can hit a 3 on a consistent basis. our shooting is atrocious!

  22. Betazk41 - Rebs dont need a 5 star big man. They need one who will be physical, rebound and put back some of these missed 3 pt shots. Thomas is a step in the right direction. Lopez jury is out on for now. From what I have seen he is not a physical player and loves to shot the outside shot.

    Kenns - I completely agree. Massamba's vertical leap must be less than 10 inches. Our big men situation really is embarrasing. If they recruited big men like they did guards, this would be a top 15 team.

  23. I do wish the team and the coaching staff learns from each loss. I would love to see an improved and smarter team after each loss. But let's face it folks: You can have all the God given "physical" talent on the floor; but if that talent does not have the fundamentals of the game down, then all that talent becomes irrelevant. This year's team is a slightly better version of last year's team. They may have bigger hearts, but they still lack in the fundamentals (I blame the coaching for that). We will cruise past any inferior team, but any team with a good guard will destroy us. In our two losses, we had NO ANSWER for the guards of the opponent (Gerrity{USC} and Pullen{KState}). Gerrity and Pullen dissected our defense, and made us look like a group of "lost" athletes on the floor.
    I am passionate for the Rebel Basketball program, but I too am starting to look at Kruger and his staffs' abilities as coaches in a different light. Maybe this is as good as it gets with this coaching staff!!!!!!
    The fact that this much talent on the court looked so UNdirectional for 40 minutes is not acceptable. If Stanback and Jasper had played a little more in the first half (regardless of their two fouls) the hole would not have been as deep as it became to crawl out of.... That was HORRIBLE coaching/managing a game, period!

  24. kenns29 joins Dec. 25, 2009...a possible Sufferin alter-ego?

    He only posts when the Rebels lose...

    Either way, it's hilarious how mad people get when we lose. I, personally, am not too upset that our only two losses are against two QUALITY programs. USC is a totally new ball club since those two became eligible.

  25. Snyderm - your not upset that the only two loses came against two quality teams? Name the quality wins UNLV has thus far. Reno is 7-5. Louisville is on a down year. Arizona is rebuilding. Their best win was over Southern Illinois. The Kstate game showed their flaws and the areas they needed to work on. The USC game exposed those same flaws once again. This team is soft and when they are being pushed around they dont push back. This all comes back to their lack of quality big men down low. If they had a couple of big men who could control the paint, rebound consistently, block shots, score inside and throw some elbows around, then their outside shots would be a lot easier to knock down.

    Dont be surprised if they lose their next three games. BYU and NM on the road back to back is tough. SDSU is very talented and seem to have the Rebs number.

  26. Hey kenns, i would like to make a prediction right here. USC will make the NCAA tournament. They are well coached, understand defensive basketball, and they can shut down and have shut down anybody they play. Tennessee, St. Mary's, even Texas only scored 69 on them and that was before Garrity joined the team. with Garrity at the point they are much improved. USC will make the tournament, you heard it here first.

  27. Stl, I have to agree with what you said to an extent. Did you see the passing? I consider passing a fundamental basketball skill and how many bad passes did we see. Thrown at the feet, over the head, too hard, too soft. Definitely frustrating to watch and I have to agree that reflects on the coaching staff. The idea that Kruger's coaching style is long-term, to teach and prepare his team for tournament play will be tested this season. Last year, that clearly was not the case. Let's see what happens in conference, as we have some real quality opponents right off the bat...