Published Saturday, Jan. 3, 2009 | 7:15 p.m.
Updated Saturday, Jan. 3, 2009 | 10:20 p.m.
New Mexico's Chad Toppert couldn't have asked for a better look to end UNLV's win streak against Mountain West Conference foes Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
But Toppert's wide-open, game-winning three-point attempt rimmed out as a packed crowd gasped and UNLV held on for its eighth straight victory, a 60-58 win to open conference play. The win also marked the 25th straight victory UNLV has recorded over MWC opponents at the Thomas & Mack Center.
"We feel fortunate in a way to come away with a win," said UNLV coach Lon Kruger, whose squad improved to 13-2, despite hitting just two seven free throws in the last 38 seconds. "It was a disjointed game, not a lot of flow."
Tre'Von Willis led the Rebels with 15 points, while seniors Joe Darger and Rene Rougeau added nine points a piece.
New Mexico's Daniel Faris led all scorers with 19 points as the Lobos outscored the Rebels 38-18 in the paint.
Free throw shooting hampered both squads, especially late. UNLV shot 62-percent, hitting 16-of-26, while New Mexico struggled even worse — firing at 53-percent (9-of-17).
UNLV senior Wink Adams did not score in 18 minutes of action and was hampered by the abdominal strain that kept him out of UNLV's win over Louisville on New Year's Eve.
"It's just one of those games where you wipe your brow and go on," Adams said.
The Rebels will have plenty of time to regroup as they don't play again until next Saturday at Texas Christian University.
:9.4, second half, UNLV leads 60-58
Willis airballs a free throw as the crowd gasps. His second charity rolls around and down for a three-point lead. New Mexico's Chad Toppert sinks two free throws after getting floored by Darger. Willis goes back to the line and rolls one of two in.
:14.5, second half, UNLV leads 58-56
New Mexico's Jonathan Wills drills a three from the left side to cut the Rebels' lead to two. Steve Alford screams for a five-second call, but Rougeau signals a timeout just in time.
1:00, second half, UNLV leads 56-53
Bellfield fouls Nate Garth beyond the three-point line as he loses control of the ball. The crowd is not happy. However the Lobo misses the one-and-one charity and Darger pulls down the board. Willis slices to the basket with a minute to play to put UNLV up five.
Garth drives the line and is fouled. He misses both and the Rebels come away with a loose ball.
Bellfield misses free throws, but Danridge misses a drive.
1:32, second half, UNLV leads 56-53
New Mexico comes up long on a three from the corner and Willis knocks down both ends of a one-and-one with 1:43 on the clock to keep UNLV in front, 56-53.
2:16, second half, UNLV leads 54-53
Faris misses a turnaround in the lane and Danridge can’t convert a point-blank tip-in. UNLV calls timeout, but Rougeau is called for traveling on a move to the basket as the shot clock winds down.
3:14, second half, UNLV leads 54-53
Oscar Bellfield hit a fade-away jumper to keep a possession alive, but New Mexico's Tony Danridge came back with a powerful two-hand slam.
A lay-in by Faris gives the lead back to New Mexico. Rougeau answers seconds later with another baseline jumper for the lead.
A pair of free throws by Willis with just over four minutes left keeps UNLV in front, 54-53.
9:02, second half, UNLV leads 48-44
Senior Rene Rougeau has come to life in the last few minutes, putting the Rebels back in front with a 48-44 advantage. After Santee scored on an up-and-under, Rougeau answered with a pair of buckets and a big defensive stop and rebound.
11:18, second half, New Mexico leads 43-41
Darris Santee hit a pair of free throws at 15:15 to cut the game to a single point.
The “Reb-els, Reb-els” chant starts up as crowd comes to life for first time in second half. UNLV comes away empty handed on that particular possession. Phillip McDonald silences crowd with a bucket for a 40-37 New Mexico advantage.
Willis hits one of two free throws, but Nate Garth nailed another three to tie the Lobos’ largest lead of the game at five.
Darger drills a three at 11:55 to cut the deficit to 43-41. T&M crowd is the loudest it’s been all night. Garth misses a shot, but Wink Adams misfires on a three that would have given UNLV the lead.
17:07, second half, New Mexico leads 38-33
UNLV fans were cheering the fact that BYU lost their long home win streak today against Wake Forest, but the Rebels are in danger of losing their own mark against MWC foes if they don't pick it up.
New Mexico, much like the Lobos started the game, scored the first basket of the second half. Joe Darger answered with a long three to cut the game to one, but a lay-in by New Mexico big man Danie Faris secured the Lobos' lead.
Halftime, New Mexico leads 32-30
Obviously not quite the start the Rebels wanted to get off to in the New Year. After missing on its first five possessions UNLV, which shot 33-percent in the first half, took its first lead with the help of four treys. However the Rebels attempted 13 from downtown, thus only shooting 30-percent.
New Mexico, shooting 42-percent, has done most of its damage down low, scoring 24 points in the paint — including 10 by Daniel Faris.
The Rebels were led by Tre'Von Willis' six points, while Kendall Wallace and Mareceo Rutledge eached added five.
Joe Darger has been active on the boards with seven rebounds.
Both teams committed eight turnovers.
:28, first half, New Mexico leads 32-30
The highlight of the game when Willis drove the lane and found a wide open Mitchell, who delighted the crowd with a big one-hand slam. He couldn't convert the free throw.
Danridge answered with a nifty up-and-under move his own and the Lobos took a 32-30 lead into the break.
3:39, first half, UNLV leads 28-26
New Mexico's Chad Toppert hit a three to tie it, but DeShawn Mitchell answered with a tip-in.
6:55, first half, UNLV leads 24-23
The Rebels have gotten hot from beyond the arc in the last few minutes. Oscar Bellfield got the three-party started with a long ball from the left side as the shot clock wound down.
Senior Mareceo Rutledge then added a three from the left corner, after hitting a pair of free throws, to put UNLV in the lead for the first time with 9:00 showing on the clock.
New Mexico answered with a drive and putback, but Kendall Wallace iced another trey from the left side to keep the Rebels in front.
15:17, first half, New Mexico leads 17-13
Darger tied the contest with a three-ball, but New Mexico's Daniel Faris, who leads all scorers with eight points, answered right back on consecutive possessions.
At the 12:25 mark the crowd gave Wink Adams a standing ovation as he checked in for the first time after missing the game at Louisville because of an abdominal strain. He went straight to the basket, but had the ball poked away.
15:17, first half, New Mexico leads 11-8
Not exactly the hot started UNLV had hoped for. New Mexico opened with a 5-0 lead. The Rebels misfired on their first five possession.
After missing a pair of free throws, Darris Santee put UNLV on the scoreboard with a pair of charities two minutes in.
Despite some early misfiring, the Rebels have been active on the offensive glass, with Darger grabbing a pair.
O'Bannon Jewelry Watch: Lon Kruger hasn't reached out to former UCLA standout Ed O'Bannon yet to show his squad a certain piece of jewelry from the Bruins' 1995 title team, but O'Bannon, who lives in Henderson and is a regular at UNLV games, welcomes the conversation. "I'd love to," O'Bannon said, before Saturday's contest.
UNLV fans this is Andy Samuelson filling in for your usual courtside scribe Ryan Greene, who's off in Lawrence probably partying at The Wheel after the Jayhawks' big victory over Tennessee (Wangburger!). Just kidding, Louise's West or the Ranch is much more Greeney's speed, but didn't figure any nonKansans would get the nonESPN references sans Scott Van Pelt and Neal Everett. Having never covered a UNLV game, pardon me for any errors.
Anyway the Mack has a buzz for the first time in 2009 as UNLV (12-2) opens Mountain West play against New Mexico (9-5). The Rebels, who came out after a highlight montage set the music of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," are aiming to extend their 24-game win streak in league play after coming off an impressive 56-55 victory over Louisville on New Year's Eve.
After missing the first game in his career, Wink Adams was back in practice on Friday. He looked a little ginger, nursing his lower abdominal strain a bit early in warm-ups. The senior is scheduled to come off the bench tonight, but after splashing six of his last 10 three-pointers in the pregame shooting around might change that status.
Since I don't normally cover the Rebs, I'm not sure my predictions mean anything. Apparently bettors in Sin City seem to think New Mexico still has J.R. Giddens in their line-up as the line went down a point and a half after opening at 6 1/2. I definitely think UNLV can cover that given their hot play in December and recent win at Freedom Hall. This could be about the time the Rebels start putting a lot of things together.
UNLV beat writer Rob Miech says Joe Darger is his Pick to Click. "Darger is gonna bust open that zone like a ...," were his exact words. I'll take Scott Hoffman from Hays, America. C'mon us Kansans have to stick together in Sin City. Plus the kid just doesn't miss in practice. And if Hoffman's in the game, that means UNLV is cruising ... I'll take UNLV in a 79-70 win.
Sun reporter Rob Miech contributed to this story.