Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009 | 2:13 a.m.
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Ryan Greene, Rob Miech and Ron Kantowski discuss UNLV's mess of a 70-60 loss at Utah on Wednesday night at the Huntsman Center. The guys talk about what Utah did right, what UNLV did pretty wrong, and expand on other topics such as the upcoming Mountain West Tournament and what both teams' NCAA hopes look like following the season's second meeting.
Beyond the Sun
- Salt Lake Tribune: Title in reach: Big victory moves Utes closer to MWC title
- Associated Press: Nevill leads Utah over UNLV
SALT LAKE CITY – It looked worse than it was, at least that’s what several UNLV basketball players said after Wednesday night’s 70-60 defeat to conference-leading Utah.
They weren’t talking about more lethargic stretches that contributed to another loss, or a season in which an NCAA tournament berth likely depends on winning the Mountain West Conference tournament.
What no doubt caught the attention of Rebels fans watching the game was a few players’ frustrations boiling over very publicly with 56 seconds remaining in the first half at the Huntsman Center.
Utah was busy scoring 18 of the half’s final 22 points, to take a 38-24 lead at the intermission, when UNLV seniors René Rougeau and Wink Adams, and sophomore Tre'Von Willis, exchanged words under the Utes’ basket.
Willis barked at Rougeau. Rougeau gave it back with some animation. Adams had a few words. Rougeau looked back at Willis and threw his hand down, as if he’d had enough.
“Yeah, it looks bad on TV,” Adams said. “But as far as the team, everybody knew what was going on. It was just one guy to another guy, saying he should have done something better.
“The other guy took it in a positive way. It just kind of heated because we were down. There was no offense taken.”
Willis and others apparently wanted Rougeau to drive on Utah’s 7-foot-2 center, Luke Nevill, rather than settle for jump shots.
“Just a breakdown, that’s all it was,” Rougeau said. “Nothing really to read into. No one’s perfect. You’ll have letdowns. Just talking more on offense, that’s all it was.”
Rougeau started the game by turning it over on an ill-advised baseline pass to freshman guard Oscar Bellfield, and UNLV’s offense sputtered with only four points in the first 4 1/2 minutes.
What led to the flare-up, and helped the Utes run into their locker room with some extra flair in their steps, were two poor passes that Bellfield tried to slip to Rougeau, an errant Joe Darger 3-pointer and two missed shots by Adams.
A driving layup by Adams rolled off the other side of the rim and he missed an 18-foot jumper. The Utes drove down, Rougeau fouled Kim Tillie and the jawing session erupted.
It carried over a bit to the free-throw line, with Rougeau on the right side close to the basket, Adams two slots away from Rougeau and Willis on the other side of the lane.
Tillie sank both freebies for a 35-22 edge.
Rougeau canned a jumper, but Utah forward Carlon Brown drilled a 3-point shot at the end of the 35-second shot clock, and with seven ticks left until the half, to boost the Utes.
“That’s what we need,” Rebels sophomore guard Kendall Wallace said of the Rougeau-Willis-Adams affair. “We need people to step up and get on our teammates, to get everyone to start playing, to get some fire going.
“We need that.”
Wallace took the cue to jump-start the Rebels (20-8, 8-6 in league) when they faced their biggest deficit, at 48-33, on two Brown free throws in the second half.
Struggling with a 3-for-12 shooting night, Adams was on the bench. Wallace canned a 3-pointer from the left corner on Shaun Green, then Wallace sailed by Green on the right side for a layup to cut it to 48-38.
Wallace’s 3-pointer from the top of the key got UNLV within nine points, at 52-43, with 9:04 left.
Utah (20-7, 11-2), which committed a season-high 20 turnovers, started getting rattled by UNLV’s pressure defense.
But when two Willis free throws cut the Utes’ lead to 57-50, UNLV failed to capitalize on three consecutive possessions when Utah turned it over twice and Tyler Kepkay missed a jumper.
For the Rebels, Mo Rutledge missed a baseline jumper, Willis commited a foul after Rougeau failed to cap a three-on-one fast break and Adams missed a jumper on the left side.
With all that sluggishness, UNLV still cut its deficit to two points when Rougeau converted a three-point play and Nevill goal-tended Rougeau’s close shot.
Utah led, 57-55, with 2:56 left, and the crowd of 11,309 became antsy.
Twenty seconds later, though, Luka Drca made his only basket of the game, a 3-pointer from the left side after a pick-and-roll freed him for a second.
“Coach called a play, I was calm, I shot it and I made it,” said Drca, a 6-5 junior from Belgrade, Serbia. “That was probably a (back) breaker.”
Adams tried a hard dribble through the left lane, but he lost the handle out of bounds. Wallace was called for reaching in on Drca, who hit two free throws, and the Utes had their cushion.
“It wasn’t ‘Uh oh,’ but it was scary a little bit,” Drca said of a 15-point edge being whittled to 2. “We just battled back.”
Nevill led Utah with 19 points and 13 rebounds.
“We win games by being tough and not giving in,” Nevill said.
Rougeau topped UNLV with 19 points. He connected on eight of a season-high 17 attempts, and he lamented a host of shots that found the rim but not the net.
“I just have to put more work in on my off days and after practice,” he said. “I probably had five or six shots there that I should have made tonight. That could have been the difference in the game.
“I’m definitely kicking myself for missing those shots. I take a lot of the blame for the loss tonight.”
Blame for the moments of drama under the opponent’s basket, in the final minute of the first half, could be spread to a few Rebels.
“Kendall got on me about missing a shot, so I came back down next time and finished one,” Rougeau said. “I don’t mind people yelling at me, as long as it’s positive. That helped the whole team.
“We all just have to be positive, get in each other’s stuff and take constructive criticism.”