Sunday, Feb. 22, 2009 | 2 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Rob 'The Wise Owl' Miech discuss UNLV's slim 75-74 victory over BYU on Saturday night at the Mack, fueled by the super-sub efforts of Kendall Wallace and Mo Rutledge, plus the Rebels' largest home crowd since 1993. Also, an unfriendly welcome for Mrs. Cummard and where the up-and-down Rebels go from here.
Beyond the Sun
- Salt Lake Tribune: Cougars come up short in Vegas
UNLV’s first sellout crowd in more than 16 years was rewarded with the Rebels’ sixth consecutive Thomas & Mack Center victory over BYU on Saturday night.
It also capped the first series sweep by UNLV over the Cougars in the 10-season history of the Mountain West Conference.
However, the crowd of 18,523 was tested, like it has so many times this season, until the very end of the Rebels’ 75-74 win.
Senior guard Wink Adams hit the first of two free throws to boost UNLV’s lead to 68-57 with 2 minutes, 12 seconds remaining when the game became interesting.
That typified a schizo season for the Rebels, who have risen to the occasion against some top-flight programs and played down to a host of typically mediocre squads.
Including that trip to the line for Adams, UNLV (20-7, 8-5 in the Mountain West Conference) made only 8 of 15 free throws the rest of the way to hang on for the decision.
“We made just enough free throws down the stretch to pull it out,” said Rebels coach Lon Kruger.
When pressed about the misses, Kruger responded with a sly smile.
“I’m talking about the makes,” he said.
BYU (20-6, 8-4) was last swept by UNLV in a season series in 1997-98, when both were in the Western Athletic Conference.
The difference Saturday was freshman guard Oscar Bellfield, who strolled to the line with a 74-71 lead and 7.3 seconds left. He missed the first. He made the second.
That gave the Rebels the room they needed to kill the last ticks of the game after BYU senior guard Lee Cummard raced down and drilled a 3-point shot from the left side with 2.6 seconds left.
In the final frantic moments, UNLV senior swingman René Rougeau inbounded a two-handed lob to a streaking Adams at midcourt.
Cougars guard Jimmer Fredette trailed Adams wildly to foul him, but Adams zipped into the right lane and circled under the basket, out the left side, to bleed the rest of the clock and secure the victory.
“The environment tonight was amazing,” Adams said. “It was so loud. BYU fans were here. Our fans … the student section … it was jumping tonight. We definitely wanted to win this game for the fans.”
The last UNLV sellout crowd at home was Jan. 23, 1993, when the Rebels defeated Georgetown, 96-80, with Rollie Massimino in his first season as coach after Jerry Tarkanian departed.
The Rebels’ boost came from their bench, when sophomore guard Kendall Wallace broke a 37-37 tie with consecutive 3-point shots within 17 seconds.
The first was from the top of the key, with Cummard smack in Wallace’s face, and Wallace wound up on his scarlet shorts after nailing the shot.
The second took his awkward momentum into two guys sipping soda in their courtside seats.
“I guess I needed that, some contested ‘threes’ to take my mind off shooting,” said Wallace, who had hit only one of his previous 14 attempts beyond the arc.
Wallace finished off his minute spurt with a slick drive by Cummard on the right side and a layup off the glass for a 45-39 advantage. Cummard slapped his hands together at the defensive lapse.
“We know what he is … he’s a shooter,” Cummard said of Wallace. “We let him get off. He got one right in my face and he drove on me. Rutledge played well, too.
“They got up and we couldn’t crawl back.”
After Wallace’s highlights, sophomore guard Tre’Von Willis was slapped with his fourth foul. That was significant because Willis had been creating well and forcing the issue against the Cougars.
For example, on the last play of the first half Willis was patient on the left side as the clock evaporated. Rougeau popped open in the left post, and Willis fed him for an easy lay-in that gave UNLV a 23-21 halftime edge.
When Kruger yanked Willis to the bench after his fourth foul, Fredette scored and Bellfield launched an ugly air ball beyond the 3-point line. The crowd rained boos on the officials when Rougeau was nabbed for a foul.
Fredette sank two free throws to get BYU within 45-43.
Just as momentum seemed to be switching hands, though, Mo Rutledge went into action for the Rebels.
Rougeau converted a three-point play, when he sailed in for a layup off a stellar bounce pass from Adams and canned a free throw off Jackson Emery’s foul.
Then Rutledge, UNLV’s senior power forward who had a career-high 13 points, sank a 3-point shot from the left side on Emery.
A solid 6-foot-3, 225-pound lefty, Rutledge next drove on 6-11 center Chris Miles, slipped in a layup off the glass, drew a foul from Miles and nailed the ensuing free throw for a 54-45 edge with 8:11 left.
A few months shy of his 26th birthday, Rutledge is the elder statesman of the Rebels. He chooses his words carefully, so his teammates listen when he speaks.
Yes, he said, the locker room was much different late Saturday night than it was late Wednesday night after that sour effort in Wyoming.
“It’s a lot better,” Rutledge said. “It’s a real good feeling from Laramie. Everyone came out with their heads down in Laramie. We have our heads back up. We feel good now.”
Adams gave the boisterous crowd more reason to explode when he connected on back-to-back 3-pointers, against Cummard and then Tavernari, for a 63-51 lead.
“Wink will get his,” Cummard said. “He’s a good player. And that boost they got from their bench was tremendous for them.”
A minute later, the audience broke out “the wave” to the left for a few cycles around the arena. No doubt it was a tad early, but it had been a while since that form of celebration had been displayed at the back — since the last time BYU visited.
“They feed off that crowd,” Fredette said. “We try to block it out, silence it as much as we can. But it’s a fun environment to play in. I love playing in this type of environment. It’s a great thing.”
Adams finished with a game-best 22 points, his average in four of his past five games against BYU at the Mack.
“We couldn’t get stops, that’s the bottom line,” said Tavernari. “Give UNLV all the credit. They’re really good on the road, and really, really good at home. That’s why they were picked to win the league.
“They’ve had a few bumps in the road, but who doesn’t?”
Adams likened the raucous atmosphere to what he’s seen watching some Big East Conference games on television.
“To come out with the win was even better,” he said. “We have to keep it going.”