Ed Reinke / Associated Press
Thursday, Jan. 1, 2009 | 12:08 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech dissect UNLV's 56-55 upset win at No. 18 Louisville on Dec. 31, 2008, which the Rebels completed with leading scorer Wink Adams out of the lineup. René Rougeau and Tre'Von Willis both rose to the occasion in terms of production and leadership, while Oscar Bellfield provided the late-game heroics. The guys also give some New Year's resolutions for both the Rebels and themselves.
LOUISVILLE – UNLV freshman guard Oscar Bellfield finished off 2008 and the 18th-ranked Louisville Cardinals by dropping a crystal ball through a net at Freedom Hall.
With 6-foot-9, 260-pound center Samardo Samuels on him, Bellfield didn’t shy away from taking the ball inside through the right side on the Louisville freshman with the game on the line Wednesday night.
Bellfield, a 6-2, 175-pound freshman, connected on a close shot just out of Samuels’s reach and high off the backboard with 16.8 seconds remaining to give the Rebels a 56-55 lead over the Cardinals.
With two ticks left at the other end, Louisville senior forward Terrence Williams’s driving shot rolled off the rim, UNLV senior forward Joe Darger grabbed it and the Rebels had their biggest victory of the season.
“I love big games. Every player should,” Bellfield said. “I was ready and prepared. (Samuels) played real good defense. For a big guy, he did a real good job. I had to get the shot over him. He was so big.
“I had to use his body to get the shot over him. I got it high off the backboard … it wasn’t that close.”
UNLV (12-2) has won seven consecutive games and is 4-0 on the road. Louisville dropped to 8-3 and plays host to rival Kentucky on Sunday.
“I was surprised it went in because of the angle,” Samuels said. “That’s basketball. You’re going to make shots like that. It’s one of those prayers you throw up. Hopefully, it goes in.”
The victory was even bigger since UNLV played with senior guard Wink Adams, and his team-leading 14.1 points, on the bench.
Adams injured an abdominal muscle last week against Southern Utah and was held out as a precaution. Rebels coach Lon Kruger expects Adams to be available Saturday night at home against New Mexico.
Kruger said it was an advantage to know for a week – instead of, say, finding out Tuesday – that Adams most likely wouldn’t be available.
“That helped a lot,” Kruger said. “It wasn’t like he went out last night and we had to make adjustments all of a sudden.”
UNLV senior forward Rene Rougeau led everyone with 17 points, on eight-of-nine shooting, and sophomore guard Tre’Von Willis, who started in place of Adams, chipped in 16.
The Rebels nailed seven of 15 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc, and Willis drilled three of those to neutralize Louisville’s dominant inside presence.
In the end, though, Bellfield didn’t hesitate challenging a taller Cardinal.
“I thought he really grew up tonight,” Kruger said of Bellfield.
It was a move the Rebels hoped to see among the top 10 plays of the day later that night on ESPN’s SportsCenter.
“If they don’t have him there, they robbed him,” Willis said. “We wanted to isolate on him, just get a good look. He went all the way with a great finish.”
Louisville sophomore guard Preston Knowles watched it all develop.
“They just capitalized on switches,” he said. “With a big man defending a point guard, nine times out of 10 the point guard will score. He did a good job driving to the hole.
“I thought he was going to miss it, but he banked it in. Samardo came close. I thought he’d block it or Bellfield would miss it.”
Louisville coach Rick Pitino called a timeout and drew up a play centered on Knowles, who could either pass it into junior swingman Earl Clark down low if he were open or feed it out to Williams.
Knowles opted for Williams, who used a screen to drive for a possible game-winning shot.
“I guess we didn’t execute it well enough,” Knowles said. “Losing any game is tough, but at home it’s really tough.”
UNLV closed out the year by clamping down on defense, allowing an opponent to shoot a season-low 29.6 percent.
An older Cardinals fan who had been sitting courtside left Freedom Hall shaking his head, saying he hadn’t seen anyone play defense against Louisville like that in a long time.
“The way they switch, they don’t allow you to run your offense,” Knowles said. “That creates problems. Players are prone to go one-on-one. It’s challenging. It’s hard for people to score when they take you out of your offense.”
That happened from the start as a subdued crowd of 19,314 watched UNLV score the first 10 points of the game. Louisville missed its first 11 shots.
When the Cardinals finally got a basket, it came courtesy of Rebels freshman DeShawn Mitchell’s goaltending of junior guard Edgar Sosa’s close shot 8 1/2 minutes into the game.
That cut UNLV’s lead to 14-6.
The Rebels were ahead, 22-7, when Louisville earned its first field goal, a 3-pointer from the right side by Knowles.
Rougeau kept the heat on the Cardinals in the second half, when his fastbreak jam gave UNLV a 38-27 edge with 15:53 left.
Then the Rebels went cold, getting only one field goal over a nearly 12-minute stretch. Louisville’s crowd got into it, and it exploded when Williams gave the Cards their first lead, at 48-47, with two free throws.
“Even though they made that big comeback, we – the coaches and all of us – were yelling the whole time that we’re going to win this game,” Willis said. “We’re mentally tough. I’m just proud of our guys.”
Half a minute after Louisville took that lead, Willis displayed his fortitude by sinking a 3-pointer from the left side, on junior guard Jerry Smith, to give UNLV a 51-50 lead.
With 77 seconds left, Willis hit the back end of two free-throw attempts to cut the Rebels’ deficit to 55-54.
And when Bellfield and power forward Mo Rutledge tied up senior guard Amdre McGee, forcing him to turn it over with 42 seconds left, Kruger declined to call a timeout.
“We liked the matchup,” Kruger said. “We liked Oscar driving on their big guy. He’s still their big guy, and Oscar did a good job. He made a tough shot. We just called a high ball screen.
“Guys run that every day.”
It’s just a bit more significant when it’s run to perfection on the road, against a ranked foe and without your best player, to ring in a new year.