unlv basketball:

Kentucky trips Rebels out of NIT’s first round

Wildcats withstand late UNLV rally for 70-60 win in charged atmosphere

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Justin M. Bowen

Wink Adams takes it against the defense as UNLV takes on the Wildcats in Lexington, Ky., in the first round of the NIT.

Not So Lucky in Kentucky

In Tuesday's first round match-up against Kentucky, UNLV's rally falls short, as the Rebels are eliminated from the NIT 70-60.

From Rupp Arena, With Love

Tuesday's first round game between UNLV and Kentucky was held at Memorial Coliseum, instead of Rupp Arena, but the campus gym still shares in the Wildcats' rich history.

Have Fans, Will Travel?

With 1,700 miles separating Las Vegas from Lexington, UNLV fans had to come out of the woodwork to support the Rebels at Memorial Coliseum.

The Rebel Room

UK POSTGAME: And that's that ...

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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech take a closer look at a performance in the first round of the NIT typical of UNLV's second half of the season -- close at the end, but not enough to get over the hump. The guys discuss what made for a historic, unique and insane atmosphere at Memorial Coliseum, what the Rebels learned from the season and its finale, plus some other tidbits from the final trip until next fall.

UNLV vs. Kentucky NIT

Brice Massamba battles for a rebound as UNLV takes on the Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday night in the first round of the NIT. The game was played in Memorial Coliseum. Launch slideshow »

UNLV vs. Kentucky - Before the game

The University of Kentucky campus on Tuesday afternoon.  The Rebels face the Kentucky Wildcats in the NIT. Launch slideshow »

Box score

Beyond the Sun

LEXINGTON, Ky. – UNLV’s basketball season was summed up in its final game Tuesday night against Kentucky in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.

The Rebels shot 3-pointers and free throws poorly, dug themselves a hole, tried to make a stirring comeback but couldn’t quite pull it off in a 70-60 defeat to the Wildcats.

“It’s kind of the way it went all year, in terms of just not quite finding that little niche, spark or ingredient to get us over the edge,” said UNLV coach Lon Kruger. “The game kind of went that way. We didn’t quite get back over the edge.

“I think we’ll learn from it in the long run.”

The game was switched from Rupp Arena to the Wildcats’ old Kentucky home in the venerable Memorial Coliseum, where they played in the 1950s, ’60s and into the ’70s.

The state high school playoffs took precedence at Rupp, but the venue change created a wild atmosphere for 8,327 fans who saw the Wildcats play on the court for the first time since 1976.

“It was a lot of fun in there just to get a chance to play in one of the most storied buildings ever, maybe the most storied building, in my opinion, to ever host a basketball game,” said Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie. “It was a quite an honor for our team. Our fans were unbelievable.”

A young UK official almost shook afterward. His grandfather had told him stories about games in the pearl of a gym. Now the official has a story for his grandkids.

“It was a neat experience,” Kruger said. “The fans were great. I think they really looked at it as a novelty, not just a basketball game. They got here early and were really into it.”

Kentucky (21-13) will play the winner of today’s Creighton-Bowling Green game in the second round of the NIT.

UNLV (21-11) flew home after the game with a checklist of what went wrong this season after it had won 17 of its first 21 games.

But the Rebels will take some solace in how they sliced a 20-point second-half deficit to three with about four minutes remaining.

“Anything’s possible, that’s for sure,” said UNLV senior swingman René Rougeau. “That’s the team I’m used to seeing out there on the court. If only we played like that in the first half, too, it would have been a different game.”

The first half, as has been the case over the past six weeks, was a debacle for the Rebels, who made three of 17 3-pointers and one of six free throws.

Patrick Patterson, Kentucky’s outstanding 6-foot-9 sophomore, ended it with a bang when he dunked Darius Miller’s close miss as the final second ticked off the clock.

That gave the Wildcats a 36-24 edge at halftime.

When UK scored the first six points of the second half, capped by 6-4 junior guard Jodie Meeks’s 3-pointer from the left side, Kruger called for a timeout.

The crowd sounded like it was three times its size as its cheers bounced off the decades-old, water-stained ceiling tiles.

“That was lots of fun,” said Rebels senior guard Wink Adams, who scored a team-high 14 points. “The UK fans got those chants going, and they were into the whole game. It was a fun environment.

“It’s always better when you win, but I enjoyed myself and we played hard to the end.”

The crowd’s explosion when Perry Stevenson dunked over UNLV senior Joe Darger might have been heard at Rupp, just a short drive away from Memorial.

“It was crazy,” Patterson said. “I just looked at him and he had this little pose that he always does standing over the player and I couldn't help but smile. That's Perry for you. He's a great leaper and a great dunker.”

Stevenson hit the ensuing free throw, and Kentucky had a 48-30 edge. Then Patterson’s jam made his fans shriek over a 20-point cushion. Patterson finished with 16 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.

When former Cats coach Joe B. Hall was shown on a large television screen, the shrieking continued, as it did when Patterson sliced in for a layup in the final second of the shot clock for another 20-point lead.

UNLV senior Mo Rutledge canned a pair of 3-pointers to start the comeback. As he pointed out, though, they were sandwiched around his long air ball from the right corner.

“I just knew I had to come out and provide energy for my team,” Rutledge said. “I had that air ball, but I came back down and just had to keep shooting. That crowd was real crazy. It was real noisy in there.

“We had a couple of shot-clock violations, and it was because the crowd was so loud. We couldn’t hear and we weren’t able to see the shot clock.”

Freshman guard Oscar Bellfield drilled a 3-pointer, sophomore guard Kendall Wallace sank all three free throws after getting fouled beyond the arc and Adams sank a 3-point shot to cut UK’s lead to 56-47.

With 9:21 left, Gillispie called a timeout to regroup. But after a couple of baskets by Miller, the Wildcats went cold for four minutes.

That allowed UNLV to cut its deficit to 60-57 on a 3-pointer by Darger on the right side with 4:05 left.

Kentucky regained control on a free throw by Stevenson, Meeks’s 14-foot jump shot and two free throws by Meeks, who led everyone with 19 points.

After Meeks’s jumper, Bellfield, dribbling to his right, lost the ball when he stumbled. Turnover. Kentucky ball. Kruger, who watched the play unfold in front of him, was livid.

“Well, by rule, if Oscar was tripped it’s an automatic foul,” Kruger said. “If he wasn’t, it was the right call. We’ll look at the tape. If he was tripped it’s a very simple call at a critical stage in the game.

“We thought he was tripped. The official thought he wasn’t. We’ll see.”

Bellfield didn’t flinch.

“I got tripped up,” he said. “The ref said he didn’t see it … but it’s their house. Can’t blame them. You’ve got to expect that. I should have been more aggressive, but … ”

Kentucky scored 10 of the game’s final 13 points.

“We showed we weren’t giving up or giving in,” Rutledge said. “That 20-point deficit could have gone to 30 or 40, the way they were playing and Patterson was rebounding. I think it showed a lot of character that we were out there fighting.”

Character that Bellfield hopes will carry over to next season, when guard Tre’Von Willis will be a junior, and UCLA transfer Chace Stanback and Kentucky transfer Derrick Jasper will be eligible.

“Yeah, that’s big time character,” he said. “We really need to take this in and learn from it, and start better and execute better. There will be ups and downs, you just have to fight through it.

“We have to be tough and ride it out.”

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  1. C'mon Lenny_V, that's over the top man. We know what you are saying and that's very tasteless.

    Also, Headcases, that was a very classless comment too. Miech I hope you don't think all Cat fans are like that.

    The Runnin' Rebels played a fine game. Slicing a 20-point lead in a wild Memorial Coliseum was gutsy. I was glad the Cats were able to hold them off.

  2. Some of these comments are classless and tasteless. As a lifelong UK fan and ADULT, let me say that it was a great showing for both teams. It would be easy to close-up shop in the NIT, but both teams played with pride and passion. That is what college basketball is all about.

    As a UK fan, I'll be the first to say that there should have been a tripping foul called. That no call was a game-changing event. I have a blog about basketball in the state of Kentucky, and my headline was similar to yours:

    http://www.allkyhoops.com/2009/03/kentuc...

    Everyone come by and check me out:

    http://allkyhoops.com

  3. i have to say i'm impressed with rob for being able to write this with tears in his eyes from his stinging loss

  4. I would pin the blame for the UNLV loss on the UNLV coach.

    The officials obviously missed the call when Bellfield tripped and the ball went out of bounds.

    Kruger got very angry about it and it seemed from TV that he could not let it go.

    It seemed like he never got his head back in the game after that blown call.

  5. Props to the Wildcats and their great fans. It's too bad the Rebels couldn't get untracked until it was too late. I'd have loved to have seen what that gym would have been like if the game came down to the final possession.

    I'm looking forward to next season for the Rebels, and wish Kentucky well in the NIT.

  6. LA52PDX,

    Shows how much read or know about Rob Meich. He does not root for the Rebels, nor is he any type of fan, he could care less. He just knows when to call a spade a spade. Such as C.M. Newton fixing: the Rebels seed, against Kentucky and at their place. If you don't find that obvious, then you are just like every other tunnel visioned bias fan.

  7. Miech, my bad Rob.

  8. No matter which arena they play in, Kentucky always delivers a fantastic college basketball environment to play in.

    The Rebel comeback was as enjoyable a stretch of basketball as any they delivered all season.

    It's a shame these two programs can't meet up more often than once every 20 years or so! This is one program I would love to see UNLV work out a home and home with, even if it means 2 or 3 trips to Lexington to get a date with the Cats at the Mack!

  9. You know what nyrebel, I agree, that would be fun. It's a no lose situation for us. Losing here or there would never hurt us but winning in either place would always help.

  10. A home and home would help both schools recruiting wise as well. Good pub for the Rebs back east and the Cats out west.

  11. Excuse me, sir? Would you happen to have a pair of jumper cables?

    The rebelution needs a jumpstart.

  12. I thought the UNLV players displayed a lot of class in their post-game comments/remarks. Very refreshing.

  13. This year's Rebelution promo poster says "Two seasons that changed everything." Yeah, and how about the one season that snapped us right back? This was, without a doubt, THE most disappointing Reb squad since '92-93. How could an almost identical version of last year's 'pleasant surprise' be this lifeless, lack cohesion, or any identity on the court? How is it that four seniors, one of which was predicted to be MWC Player of the Year, showed zero leadership or integrity thoughout the season. The overwhelming absence of hustle and heart was sickening. There's simply no way to sugarcoat it. This team team choked harder than Jason Thomas during his ill-fated Heisman watch. Just when Lon and Co. were about to turn the corner with this program, we get this? How embarrassing...

  14. I wondered about that as well Lenny, so I rewound on tivo to see if there was a deflection or something where KU had to inbound the ball again but nope....24 seconds left I can see the refs missing that maybe, but 22? One of several missed and bad calls throughout the game I noticed after watching the film.

    The weird part is that I completely expected it leading up to the game and it didn't bother me as much as if it was conference game. I guess Rob's article about C.M. and his cronies cheating to make sure that Kentucky had the upper hand prepared me for a no win situation.

    Sure am proud that the Rebs made a run and surprised that the officiating actually let them get back in game.

    Thanks for the memories seniors.

  15. ukgreg, I never saw headcases comments. It got erased, so I guess it wasn't in the best taste. Hey, I think that was an awesome game and UK fans are fantastic. That was anything but an NIT atmosphere. Incredible building and environment. Hats off to all involved.
    LAS2PDX, uh, no, I didn't not quite write my story with "tears in my eyes." C'mon. That is really ridiculous. I could not care less who wins. Someone's gonna win. Someone's gonna lose. And guess what, I gotta write, either way.
    You and others, I think, have definitely misconstrued some points I have made.
    The biggest is that, what if Brad Rothermel, the former UNLV athletic director who hired Jerry Tarkanian, were the NIT selection committee chairman. And what if, just by chance, under that scenario, Kentucky were made to open the NIT at UNLV? Yeah, then the Bluegrass State would be screaming bloody murder.
    As for ol66, pinning that loss on Lon Kruger? That is laughable. There were more than a few incredibly questionable calls in that game. Even if you believed that line, then you think Billy Gillispie out-coached Kruger? Uh, no.
    Lenny and Fast, that 10-second non-call was extremely odd. And that wasn't the first time we've seen that this season. I know officials have a difficult job to do, but to miss the blatant stuff? Greg Gensing did not miss that, either. But he and the rest of the UNLV assistants were left to just scratch their heads because the officials wouldn't even go over to them to hear their case. Odd, indeed.

  16. Rob, what conference were the officials from anyway? Just out of curiosity.