UNLV BASKETBALL:

Tethered to the paint, Nevill dominates on both ends

11-2 Utah strengthens hold on top spot in MWC standings

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Justin M. Bowen

Luke Nevill of Utah throws down a dunk as UNLV takes on Utah Wednesday night at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City. Utah defeated UNLV 70-60, making the series even on the season.

Too Little, Too Late

UNLV rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit against Utah, cut the lead to two late in the second half, but could not complete the comeback. The Rebels lost to the Utes 70-60 Wednesday night in Salt Lake City.

UNLV vs. Utah

Rene Rougeau goes up against the much taller Luke Nevill of Utah as UNLV takes on Utah Wednesday night at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City.   Utah defeated UNLV 70-60, making the series even on the season. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

UTAH POSTGAME: Sloppy from the start

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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.

Utah Breakdown

Alex Adeyanju and Rob Miech discussed what when wrong for UNLV in their loss to Utah.

Box score

SALT LAKE CITY -- Well after Utah's 70-60 victory on Wednesday night over UNLV, as teammates greeted friends and signed autographs off to the side of the Huntsman Center floor, Luke Nevill stood where he'd been most of the night.

In the paint.

During his 35 minutes of action, he was nothing shy of dominant and efficient, finishing with 19 points, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 assists.

Now, as he stood in street clothes, thumbing out text messages on his Sidekick, he was able to speak knowing that he'd atoned for a second half worth forgetting a month earlier in the Utes' loss at the Thomas & Mack Center.

"We had a game plan in place where we rotated to the shooters, so it gave me the ability to stay in the post and help out," he said. "It helped our team defense and gave them trouble."

In the season's first meeting, Nevill was drawn away from the post on defense in the second half, and UNLV went to work, driving to the bucket at will off pick-and-rolls with the 7-foot-2 Utah center constantly behind the play.

On Wednesday, Nevill played as if he had a leash attached from the baseline to his waist.

This time, UNLV had a tough time adjusting.

"It was kind of difficult because we couldn't really get in the paint, and if we did, he was just a big target right there," Rebels guard Oscar Bellfield said. "It was gonna be difficult to make shots."

The Rebels showed plenty of hesitation in driving to the basket. Coupled with the fact that the perimeter defenders held their foes to 13 3-point attempts -- their fewest since the last time the two teams met on Jan. 24 -- and UNLV could hardly find a flow on offense.

"I thought we did a better job of adjusting to their small ball," Utah coach Jim Boylen said. "But I also think they missed some open shots that were good looks. But that happens. I thought my guys played with a sense of urgency and toughness, and to hold them to 34 percent (shooting) and win the rebounding game like we did, those are the differences, even though we turned it over 20 times."

According to Boylen, having a sense of urgency was only natural for the Utes, who blew a 14-point first half lead last month at the Mack and completely fell apart en route to their second loss in Mountain West Conference play.

"I think down there we kind of relaxed, took a deep breath and were just like 'Ah, we're up,'" said senior Shaun Green, whose three first-half 3-pointers helped key a late 18-4 run. "Tonight, we just kept putting our foot on the gas and going after them. We know they're a great team and they have come back before, so we just didn't want it to happen again to us."

Boylen's team led by 14 points at the half, which prompted him to bring up that first meeting, when his team saw a 14-point first half lead turn into eight after the Rebels hit two late 3-pointers.

This time, UNLV had a pair of 3-point attempts miss just before the intermission.

"We dodged a bullet there, and we needed to win the first five minutes of the half and keep defending and rebounding," he said.

The Utes won the early portion of the second half, but the Rebels made their run, closing to within four points at 57-53 with less than four minutes to play.

Boylen wasn't surprised.

"We've never been here before," said the second-year Utah coach. "It's a big deal for us. I thought some of the second half, the way we played was because we haven't been in a big game in February before with these guys, but we hung in there and got through it."

It is indeed uncharted territory for the Utes, who are now looking like a lock to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005.

Their resumé includes non-conference victories over other tourney-bound programs such as LSU and Gonzaga.

After going a combined 19-29 in the MWC over the past three seasons, Utah is now at 11-2 and in firm control of the once-unpredictable race for the regular season crown. On Wednesday night, they eliminated UNLV -- now a lackluster 8-6 -- from contention.

At 11-2, the Utes have a two-game edge on BYU, who they travel to face Saturday, and a 2.5-game lead on New Mexico, who they'll see down in Albuquerque next week.

"I think we are (getting stronger)," Boylen said. "You've got to go through some bumps on your way up, and we did.

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