Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009 | 2:15 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech talk about UNLV's second consecutive come-from-behind victory, as this time the Rebels took out Utah, 75-65, at the Thomas & Mack Center. The guys discuss UNLV's small-ball strategy which ultimately conquered Luke Nevill, the performances of Mo Rutledge, Tre'Von Willis and Wink Adams, plus where the Rebels go from here with a week off before facing Air Force.
Utah had the big man, but UNLV converted big play after big play in the second half Saturday afternoon and got some big production from its bench.
For the second consecutive game, the Rebels used a stirring second-half effort to douse a foe – this time Utah, 75-65, before 15,080 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
That was also the script Wednesday night at BYU.
Senior power forward Mo Rutledge, whose season-high nine points helped the UNLV second teamers provide 20 points for the first time in seven games, pointed to René “NeNe” Rougeau’s halftime words.
“NeNe is always up there talking to us, getting us ready” Rutledge said, “making sure we aren’t hanging our heads.”
Sophomore guard Tre’Von Willis did that, too, with a career-high 22 points, with 6 assists, 3 steals and only one turnover.
Willis has only turned it over twice in his past three games, a major reason why UNLV (16-4, 4-2 in the Mountain West Conference) is back in the league race after those early miscues at TCU and Colorado State.
He hit both of his 3-point attempts, and they both came in the final 90 seconds of a first half in which the Utes (12-7, 3-2) threatened to run away from the Rebels.
The second one, from the right corner on freshman point guard Oscar Bellfield’s lone assist of the game, fell through the net with 2.5 ticks left, cutting UNLV’s halftime deficit to 38-30.
“We were happy to be only down by eight at the half,” Rougeau said. “We said we have to come out and play even harder than we did at BYU. It seemed like the Utes weren’t missing shots at all.
“We buckled down. We’re trying not to make it a habit, coming out flat like that.”
In the exhale of another second-half comeback, Bellfield didn’t want anyone to overlook the boost that senior guard Wink Adams gave UNLV after halftime.
Adams sank a fade-away jumper on the right baseline, another jumper, a fade-away on the left side and hit a pair of free throws after driving to the rim on one of his patented power drives.
He kept going.
Adams fed Willis to his left for what turned out to be a three-point play, and he hit a jumper on the right side to keep the Rebels within striking distance, at 48-43, of the Utes.
“He just kept us going, and everyone followed along,” Bellfield said. “Wink is a senior that everyone looks up to. He stepped up and took care of it.”
Rebels coach Lon Kruger confused the Utes and Nevill when he mostly went small in a second half in which UNLV dominated Utah, 45-27.
Kruger started 6-foot-8 Darris Santee, and he played 12 minutes in the first half. Brice Massamba, a 6-10 freshman, spelled Santee those other eight minutes.
In the second half, those two played a combined seven minutes.
Rutledge, a 6-3 senior who also had a season-best seven rebounds, and 6-7 senior Joe Darger helped limit Utah’s 7-2 senior center Luke Nevill during the second half.
The Aussie blocked four shots in the first half, and he had eight points and five rebounds. In the second, he didn’t block any shots, and he scored six points and two boards.
“I wasn’t able to protect the rim as well as I did in the first half,” Nevill said. “They had pick-and-rolls with good shooters. I had to help, and I wasn’t able to help on drives and penetration as much.
“They drew me away from the basket and made me hesitate. I wasn’t sure what they were going to do.”
Bellfield took advantage of Nevill’s hesitations.
The 6-2 freshman drove in hard through the right lane, a la New Year’s Eve in Louisville, to score on Nevill with 8 1/2 minutes left.
It gave UNLV a 59-53 lead and prompted Adams to tell Bellfield that it might have made ESPN’s Top 10 plays of the day on SportsCenter if he had dunked on Nevill.
“I could see it in his eyes,” Adams said. “He really wanted to dunk it. He said he might do it in Utah. I said, ‘it won’t be easy … that’s a big man!’ ”
Bellfield did it again, drawing more body contact with Nevill, three minutes later to boost the Rebels’ advantage to 63-55.
“Oh no, doesn’t matter to me,” said Bellfield, when asked about driving on someone a foot taller than him. “I was trying to draw a foul. I went in there and just got over him a little bit.
“I was supposed to go in there and dunk on him, or whatever. Didn’t happen. I just laid it up. That’s cool.”
And the second one?
“I got the body a little bit,” Bellfield said. “Really, I was trying to draw a foul. That didn’t happen, but I got the basket in. So it was cool.”
Willis followed Bellfield’s cue 30 seconds later with a hard drive and close shot on Nevill for a 65-57 lead.
Then Darger got into the act on the right baseline. He grabbed a pass from Willis, with Nevill a few feet away, and had a moment to launch a 14-foot jumper.
Darger paused, in front of his bench, and heard the crowd and his teammates on the bench sigh. Darger thought there was a Rebel and a Ute behind him, in the right corner.
“I thought someone would block it from behind,” he said. “But I realized no one was behind me. I could hear the crowd and my teammates yell, ‘Shoot it!’
He dribbled once backward and nailed a 16-footer over a lurching Nevill to make it 67-57.
Darger’s late free throws hiked it to 71-60, and Rutledge fed Rougeau for easy layups on the right side on consecutive possessions to seal it for the Rebels.
By the final buzzer, Nevill – not knowing which way to turn – knew what vertigo must feel like.
“Oscar kind of got a full head of steam going into me,” Nevill said of Bellfield. “He put it up over me and drew contact. It was a good shot on his behalf. I just wasn’t able to get it a couple times.”