Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2009 | 8:58 p.m.
Final, Utah wins, 70-60
SALT LAKE CITY -- Despite finding some offensive spunk down the stretch, UNLV couldn't atone for earlier mistakes, as Utah sent the Rebels into their weekend off with a 70-60 victory on Wednesday night at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
The Rebels hung tight for awhile out of the gates, but an 18-4 Utes run to close out the first half, sparked by three Shaun Green 3-pointers, ultimately provided too much of a deficit for UNLV to erase.
The Rebels drop to 20-8 on the season and 8-6 in the Mountain West Conference, all but eliminating them from the MWC regular season title chase. The Utes padded their cushion, as they're now 20-7 overall and 11-2 in league play. UNLV is off until next Wednesday, when it will host Air Force at 7 p.m. on Senior Night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Utah was led by Luke Nevill's 19 points and 13 rebounds. The 7-foot-2 Utes senior stayed camped in the paint much of the night, making it difficult for UNLV to produce anything inside. Utah was 21-of-42 from the floor, and 8-of-14 from deep. UNLV was 20-of-58 from the field and hit 5 of its 13 3-point attempts. Utah won the rebounding battle by a landslide, 38-24.
The Rebels were led by René Rougeau's 19 points, while Tre'Von Willis scored 14, Wink Adams 9 and Kendall Wallace 8 off the bench.
For full postgame coverage, including stories, stats, photos, video and The Rebel Room: Postgame Edition, stay tuned to www.lasvegassun.com/rebels.
3:39, second half, Utah leads 57-52
SALT LAKE CITY -- Even with three missed offensive opportunities down by seven points, UNLV is still within range of Utah heading into the final 3:39, trailing 57-52.
René Rougeau will shoot a free throw as part of an and-one layup when play resumes.
It's all because of the defensive effort the Rebels have put forth in the past several minutes. Every pass is contested, every shot is contested, and the Rebels are sealing well on the defensive boards. It's hard to even remember the last time Utah had a clean, CLEAN look at the hoop.
6:22, second half, Utah leads 57-46
SALT LAKE CITY -- UNLV finally found another offensive weapon outside of René Rougeau, and it's Kendall Wallace, who provided a similar spark off the bench on Saturday night at home against BYU.
The sophomore has a pair of 3-pointers and a layup, as UNLV is now trading blows with Utah as the game heads into its stretch run.
UNLV's shooting though, has been a bit of an issue. The Rebels are 17-of-49 from the floor, and just 12-of-38 from inside the arc.
Wallace is probably UNLV's toughest threat from deep from here on out, as Joe Darger's fourth foul came with 10:26 to play, and he has yet to return. The Utes have taken it right to him as he's been relegated to defending the post the entire night.
11:20, second half, Utah leads 48-36
SALT LAKE CITY -- Kendall Wallace just hit UNLV's third 3-pointer of the game, as Lon Kruger is going with several different lineup variations, hoping something clicks.
Luke Nevill continues to be camped in the paint on both ends of the floor, and UNLV simply hasn't found a way to consistently work around that.
The lineup just moments ago included Wallace, Mo Rutledge, Oscar Bellfield, DeShawn Mitchell and Darris Santee. Joe Darger checked back in shortly after. But Wink Adams and Tre'Von Willis haven't been able to get anything going offensively, so Lon Kruger's just hoping something clicks, obviously.
Utah's gone stale a bit on the offensive end, so if UNLV had a chance to get back into this one, this would be it.
15:59, second half, Utah leads 42-31
SALT LAKE CITY -- Wondering why this doesn't look like the same UNLV team you've watched for much of the season? Well, it's because it's not.
For one, none of the Rebels except for René Rougeau have shown much interest in taking the ball to the bucket. For him, the results have been mixed.
Plus, Oscar Bellfield is looking more like a freshman tonight than he has for much of the season. He's passed up several outside looks, and so far, in 19 minutes, has only attempted two shots, has just one rebound and two turnovers.
Very stale so far.
Halftime, Utah leads 38-24
SALT LAKE CITY -- UNLV is certainly up against it right now, not only because Utah is clicking in every way possible while up 38-24 at halftime, but the Rebels are starting to bicker at each other a bit. René Rougeau got on Tre'Von Willis late in the half following a defensive foul, and just before the buzzer, Willis helped down on defense, leaving Carlon Brown open for a 3-pointer to get us to where we are at the break.
Utah was as efficient as possible in the first half, hitting 6 of its 10 3-point attempts. Meanwhile, the Rebels have only gotten off 4 attempts of their own from deep.
Just so I don't have to watch the Jeans Golden Girls perform here during the half (a dance corps of women ages 50 to 92 ... yes, can't make that up), lets go inside the first half box score.
--Utah outrebounded UNLV in the first half, 21-12. The Rebels have just one offensive rebounds.
--René Rougeau and Tre'Von Willis are the only Rebels with multiple field goals through one half. Rougeau leads the Rebs with 10 points, while Shaun Green and Luke Nevill have 11 apiece for the Utes.
--Nevill has 11 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks following one half, which is very reminiscent of the dominant first half he played last month in Las Vegas.
--Utah's bench has produced 12 points, while UNLV's has 2. They came from Darris Santee, oddly enough. Mo Rutledge and Kendall Wallace were a quiet 0-for-2 combined from the floor, playing 11 total minutes.
Overall synopsis? UNLV needs to find a way to neutralize Nevill in much the same fashion it did last month in a come-from-behind win at the Thomas & Mack Center. Don't forget, UNLV was down by 8 at the break in that contest. Plenty of hoops left, but the Rebels don't have such a friendly crowd in their corner this time. The lower two-thirds of the bowl have filled, and this place is rockin' at the moment.
By the way, tilted my head up just in time to see a 92-year-old woman do the splits at center court. I swear to God I'm not making this up. Second half can't start soon enough.
3:12, first half, Utah leads 28-22
SALT LAKE CITY -- Shaun Green is 3-of-5 from 3-point range so far, including back-to-back hits just now to spur Utah to a 28-22 lead over UNLV late in the first half.
The first connection came after René Rougeau was swatted by Luke Nevill -- his first block of the game -- under the hoop. It helped Utah build momentum off of a Carlon Brown driving layup off the right block.
UNLV is still struggling to find rhythm on the offensive end, as most of their points have not come out of set plays, but rather by pin-pointing Utah deficiencies on each possession. Rougeau's been the Rebels' saving grace on both ends. He has 8 points, 4 steals and 3 rebounds so far. He's been, without question, UNLV's most active component.
7:52, first half, Utah leads 16-14
SALT LAKE CITY -- As subtle as it's been, Luke Nevill is giving UNLV fits. Out of the last TV timeout, he executed a beautiful give-and-go which resulted in a Shaun Green layup. He scored a bucket inside on the next possession, and just before the current break, off a great post feed, pump-faked to draw Wink Adams in and then dunked while Adams gave him a touch on his left side. It wasn't much, and Adams certainly wasn't going to swat it, but Nevill still drew a foul with his hoop.
He already has 10 points and 6 rebounds. Pretty efficient.
Adams, though, and Joe Darger hit back-to-back 3-pointers with UNLV trailing by six at 14-8 to help UNLV keep pace. It's drawn the Utah defense out a tad, which the Rebels sorely needed to do, as no one can score inside.
11:48, first half, Utah leads 10-6
SALT LAKE CITY -- A few solid minutes just now for UNLV junior big man Darris Santee, once a starting lineup fixture who's now only playing single-digit minutes per outing.
In two minutes off the pine following the first media timeout, he scored a tough inside bucket, and grabbed a big defensive board in front of Shaun Green. He went right back to the bench after being whistled for an over-the-back foul while scaling Luke Nevill for an offensive board.
Still, a mild contribution for him tonight wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for UNLV, especially Joe Darger. He needs all the help he can get on Nevill.
Maybe Kantowski's not so nuts?
14:37, first half, Utah leads 7-4
SALT LAKE CITY -- Nothing groundbreaking from the opening minutes out of this one, other than the Rebels' struggles on the offensive end to get clean looks. Possessions will not be walks in the park tonight for UNLV, as Utah is playing much stingier man-to-man defense than it did last month at the Mack. Then again, we'll see how long that energy can last for.
Lawrence Borha, however, hit a 3-pointer from the left wing to start the game. He's hit at least 2 in each of his last 9 games. The Rebels can't be allowing too many more of those looks.
Struggling to find a rhythm so far, especially, is Wink Adams, who's had the door slammed in his face a couple of times while driving to the hoop. Luke Nevill has done a good job of staying on his leash so far defensively and sticking to the paint.
Pregame, part deux
We're a couple of minutes from tip. No changes to the UNLV starting lineup.
Not qute a packed house. It's about half right now. However, I remember during football season it was a late-arriving crowd, and that was a week after Utah won at Michigan. So in five minutes, who knows what this place will look like.
However, one tell-tale sign for a school needing fan support is when players throw T-shirts into the crowd during starting lineups. The Utes just did that.
SALT LAKE CITY -- I read once that former NBA guard and coach Rudy Tomjanovich's biggest fear during his playing days was of a center-hung scoreboard collapsing on the floor during a game.
Well, he would have flipped out if he ever had to play here at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, where the scoreboard high atop the playing surface is part of what's dubbed 'The Steel Cloud'. It's a unique intertwining group of cables and wires, accompanied by a concrete-looking slab above the intricate scoreboard/videoboard. I haven't seen a zillion college basketball arenas around the country, but I'm guessing you won't find anything like it elsewhere. Very UFO-like, no joke.
Either way, as a first-time visitor, I've got to say this place is probably pretty intimidating for visitors, between that huge deal in the middle of the arena and the bowl-like seating.
Utah is hoping it intimidates UNLV this evening, for sure. Talking to Utes sophomore guard Carlon Brown yesterday following his team's practice session, and he mentioned the noisy atmosphere in the Thomas & Mack Center last month affecting his squad's attempted comeback late after blowing a double-digit first half lead.
Whatever help the Utes get from the crowd will be a bonus, considering that they haven't lost since that January afternoon in Las Vegas. At 10-2, they have a chance over the next few days to all but put away a Mountain West regular season championship.
A win over 8-5 UNLV tonight would virtually eliminate the Rebels. The Utes then head to Albuquerque to face 9-4 New Mexico on Saturday.
Everyone remembers the formula which worked for UNLV last month against Utah, as the Rebels went small in the second half and slayed the taller Utes with an endless runs of buckets off of pick-and-roll plays.
That said, the obvious thing to watch tonight is just how UNLV tries to handle Luke Nevill when the 7-foot-2 center is posted up on the defensive end. Last time, a series of screens between René Rougeau and Joe Darger drew him away from the post in the second half, and the Rebels went to work inside.
Still, Utah maintains it will not resort to a zone defense. It's not part of their philosophy, according to Brown and senior guard Tyler Kepkay.
Is it a bullheaded approach? We shall see.
Now, onto tonight's Three Big Predictions ... brought to you by ... well, no one ...
1) Picks to Click I will go with Joe Darger in his final career game in his home state. Miech is taking Tre'Von Willis. Kantowski, not sure why, wants Darris Santee, saying he'll 'shock the world like Muhammad Ali.'
2) We'll see at least one ... ... thunderous dunk out of Carlon Brown. He still holds the title of most impressive hammer from a foe this season at the Mack, and he also topped SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays of the day just over a week later at TCU. Dude's got ups, and he's mad over missing several bunnies against UNLV last month.
3) Scores ... I'm taking Utah, 76-74. Miech takes Utah, 73-62. Kantowski opts for Utah, 69-65. No one ever accused us of being homers, huh?