UNLV BASKETBALL:

Rebels squeeze out 60-58 win to open conference play

Late free-throw misses leave New Mexico with hope until the final seconds

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Justin M. Bowen

Rene Rougeau lays it in for two points Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center as UNLV took on New Mexico. The Rebels beat the Lobos, 60-58.

Win No. 1 in Conference

UNLV opened up the Mountain West Conference season with a close 60 to 58 win over New Mexico Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.

UNLV vs. New Mexico

Darris Santee and Kendall Wallace can't bear to watch as UNLV shot two-of-seven at the free throw line in the last 38 seconds. The Rebels still managed to beat the Lobos, 60-58. Launch slideshow »

UNLV Fan Photos

Photos of fans from Saturday's game against New Mexico Launch slideshow »

With 38 seconds remaining against New Mexico, UNLV led by five points, freshman guard Oscar Bellfield walked to the free-throw line and a Thomas & Mack Center crowd started heading for the exits.

The fans who stayed were left squirming in their seats until the final buzzer as the Rebels missed five of their next seven free throws to give the Lobos a chance.

Many UNLV players said they felt fortunate to secure a 60-58 victory over New Mexico in the Mountain West Conference opener for both teams.

“That definitely shouldn’t happen on our home court,” said UNLV senior power forward Joe Darger.

“When you’re up by five with less than a minute, there shouldn’t be any doubt,” said Rebels senior forward René Rougeau. “That was a bit too close, especially seeing how it came down to a last shot for them.

“We have a lot of work to do still.”

It was an eighth consecutive victory for UNLV (13-2, 1-0 in league), but the Rebels weren’t exactly elated after such recent highs in a home win over Arizona and Wednesday’s thriller at Louisville.

New Mexico (9-6, 0-1) lost for the second time in its past eight games.

Lobos senior guard Chad Toppert missed a wide-open 3-pointer with three seconds left, and senior swingman Tony Danridge’s tip rolled off the rim.

Darger grabbed the ball as time expired.

“Free throws are huge,” he said. “If we would have hit free throws, this game wouldn’t have been this close down the stretch. We have to work on free throws, sliding our feet and taking care of the ball.”

Bellfield missed the front end of a one-and-one situation to give the Lobos hope, but they didn’t capitalize since Danridge missed a close shot at the other end.

UNLV senior forward Mo Rutledge yanked down the board and got fouled with 26.3 seconds left, but he missed both freebies.

Twelve seconds later, New Mexico sophomore guard Jonathan Willis, who had hit four 3-point shots on the season, sank one from just left of the top of the key to cut the Lobos’ deficit to 58-56.

A tick later, with 13.4 seconds left, UNLV sophomore guard Tre’Von Willis was sent to the line and he launched an air ball on his first of two attempts.

“It slipped,” Willis said. “Crazy.”

In the locker room afterward, he joked that he just tried to make the game closer with his teammates.

“But I apologized,” Willis said. “That will never happen again.”

He hit the second free throw to make it 59-56.

Then Darger fouled Toppert with 9.4 seconds left, and Toppert hit both free throws to get the Lobos to within a point of the Rebels.

Before the Rebels could inbound the ball, Willis was hacked and sent to the line. He again missed the first free throw. It was short, again. But this time it at least hit the front of the rim.

He swished the second for a 60-58 advantage.

Toppert sailed down for a 3-point attempt with Rougeau a step or two away from him.

“You don’t want to see people getting looks like that with the game in the balance,” UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. “We feel fortunate, in a way, to come away with a win.”

As expected, Rebels senior guard Wink Adams played for the first time since tweaking an abdominal muscle Dec. 23. He first practiced Friday and said he was less than full strength against New Mexico.

To wide applause, before a crowd of 14,189, Kruger put in Adams 7 1/2 minutes into the game. Three minutes later, Adams missed a 3-pointer from the left side.

He missed the other five shots he launched, too, during his 18 minutes of action.

So Adams went scoreless for a second game in a row. Those are the only two times in 116 career games that he failed to get any points. It was also only the 11th time he didn’t start as a Rebel.

He agreed that he looked hesitant and said he played at about “75 to 80 percent.”

“I was nervous to do a lot of things … timid,” Adams said. “It took away from my aggressiveness. Hopefully, by Saturday, I’ll be 90 percent. I’ll be able to get to the basket, like usual.”

UNLV plays TCU at Fort Worth, Texas, on Saturday afternoon.

The player who got to the basket with regularity Saturday night was New Mexico senior Daniel Faris, a 6-9, 245-pound power forward from Albuquerque.

A minute into the game, he executed a spin move down low, got fouled and sank both free throws. Soon afterward, he stole the ball from Bellfield.

Then he hit a left hook from the left post on UNLV junior center Darris Santee, and he left the Rebels’ post players in his wake.

Faris, who went eight-for-13 from the field, scored a game-high and season-best 19 points.

“That was the game plan,” Faris said in a whisper after losing his voice in Tuesday night’s victory over New Mexico State. “We tried to go inside, and I was able to finish a few tonight.

“I missed some easy ones, though. Our defense was pretty good most of the night. We made a few mental errors toward the end and they took advantage. They’re a very good team.”

The Rebels went two-for-seven at the line in the final minute.

“Lucky for us, they opened the door for us,” Faris said. “This team doesn’t stop fighting. We have a lot of fight in us. We just couldn’t pull it out tonight.”

Kruger denied that there was any hangover from that exciting finish in Louisville on New Year’s Eve, but some of his players said otherwise.

“Some new guys might have overlooked this game after a big game like Louisville,” Adams said.

“You know, as much as we don’t want to say there was, obviously there was,” Darger said. “We didn’t come out and play with the intensity and dictate like we like to. We kind of let them push us around.”

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  1. The total collapse at the end of the game, and the debacle at the free throw line are absolutely INEXCUSABLE. Air-ball from the charity line? Are you kidding me? I don't mean to sound harsh on our guys, but this is a division-1 basketball team that is trying to establish itself as a premiere team. 65 percent accuracy from the free throw line is a joke. Close games will be decided at the free throw line. We got lucky tonight, but if we are to compete in MWC, we have got to work on the free throws.
    Also, our big guys (Santee and Masamba) need to start producing. They need to get aggressive. They COMBINED for 8 points and 3 rebounds between the two of them. When the inside game is nonexistant, we have to rely on the outside shot. The shots went in tonight, but will they at "the Pit" or BYU? God I hope so. Otherwise we are gonna get blown out.

  2. Uh, the shots did not fall with regularity last night. Hence the 59 points. Defense, although not extraordinary, kept them in this game. Just calm down. Wink is the offensive focal point of this team and he is nowhere near 100 percent and yet we still won over a good New Mexico team. Yes it shouldn't have been that close at the end but it's a victory nonetheless.

    Santee looked good last night 'when' he got the ball and was able to maneuver around Paris for layups. He needs to get the ball more. As far as rebounding with him and Massamba, that's a different story. I have no idea why those two don't get boards, it's puzzled me this whole season. There technique and sometimes their grit is very suspect.

  3. You are correct Fast. Santee and Massamba are puzzling down low, on the boards. Scoring can come from elsewhere, although them -- especially Santee -- being productive with points is vital to opening the outside game. Otherwise, be prepared for much more of Darger down low. Hey, he's used to it from last season. And the Rebels do seem more comfortable when they go small. JD yanked down 10 rebounds and looked pretty beat afterward. He and Rougeau, especially, have been fighting off colds, for what that's worth. Nasty coughs. I think you thank the stars for the last two victories, one without Wink and one with him at much less than 100 percent, and move on. Although the coaches won't. The lads will be running a lot over the next few days. :-)

  4. Lucky to win? That's funny,

    I guess they must win by 10 or 20, all the time? Conference play has started and this was a conference game, went just like they usually do against the better teams. When you play the well coached and athletic teams in this league like NM, SDSU, BYU, Air Force, Utah etc you may get more than a few that go down to the wire. These conference teams just know your tendencies more and are better prepped for you than a Big East or Pac 10 foe who knows nothing about or overlooks you! As Far as Santee and Massamba, I see Santee being quite aggressive with the ball; he just needs more touches and plays for him. His D is there though, usually gets a few 2 or 3 good blocks. Massamba on the other hand is simply a fowling machine. He gets himself in foul trouble or becomes a fouling liability out there. The guy is heavy handed and hasn't really learned how to be aggressive on D while not mauling his man.

  5. I agree with everything you said there SMB, except about Massamba. I think he needs to be more aggressive. Overall though, that game was about what should have been expected. It was a conference game that followed a big win. Not to take anything away from New Mexico, they played well, but did anyone else notice that they were making a lot of close, but low-probability, shots? They were on fire for most of the game.

    I've got a question for you Rob. Not to be negative, but can Massamba dunk? If so, why doesn't he?

  6. maryland, great question! I was asking myself the same thing over the past couple of practices. Not to be a wise-*#@, but I am sure he can dunk. I'm not even going to question that. At Findlay last season, he wasn't 100 percent and played sparingly off the bench. I have not seen him jam in practice this season, but that doesn't mean he hasn't. I am not able to view 100 percent of each practice. Anyway, I know what you mean. The past two days, like this season, he opts for the glass or straight-in shots. I think he's just getting his feet warm. I think, with asst. coach Lew Hill on him daily, he's going to turn into quite an aggressive player. He has the luxury of being able to come along slowly, so I wouldn't worry about Brice. He is a very smart guy.
    Although, if you're reading this Brice, I TOLD you I knew more about the AC Milan football team than you did! :-)

  7. Oh, one other things. If Tony Danridge doesn't go 5-for-17 on Sat night, that game has a different outcome. So UNLV's defense deserve some credit. Only one player, Faris, really went off, and he went for a season high. I think UNLV coaches will have no problem letting someone get his averages, or a bit more, if, in turn, they keep everone else in check.

  8. Thanks Rob. I'm confident too. My friends and I go nuts whenever Massamba comes out... yelling "scoot Big Beef!!" or "use your butt Truck!!" So, we love him... the people who sit in front of us may be getting a little irritated though. Haha. Thanks for the answer.