Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009 | 2:30 a.m.
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Ryan Greene, Christine Killimayer and Rob Miech break down an 88-75 UNLV victory which turned on a dime from a slugfest into a track meet on Wednesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center. It was all the result of a gamble made by coach Lon Kruger with the Rebels trailing by 12 with 15 minutes to play ...
UNLV basketball coach Lon Kruger should have been rolling the dice or picking numbers on a roulette wheel or hitting 18s on a blackjack table somewhere in town Wednesday night.
Against what appeared to be high odds, he made a move at the Thomas & Mack Center that paid off handsomely in the Rebels’ 88-75 victory over UNR.
Trailing their Silver State rival by a dozen points 5 1/2 minutes inside the second half, the Rebels rallied when Kruger benched a trio of starters for two rookies and a walk-on.
The Wolf Pack had just rattled off eight consecutive points to take a 54-42 lead. A crowd of 13,113 had been silenced.
“They were probably thinking, ‘What’s about to happen? Are they going to pick it up or give up?’ And we picked it up,” said UNLV sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield, who scored a career-best 22 points.
“We have to pick it up right here and right now,” Marshall told Hawkins. A step behind those two, senior walk-on Steve “Chopper” Jones said, “We have to bring energy!”
“The crowd was quiet and seemed out of the game,” Hawkins said. “We came in right from the get-go and brought energy. We leaned on each other for defensive support and just kept it going.”
And going, and going …
Ten seconds after getting into the fray, the 6-foot-1 Jones slipped in a layup on the left side among tall traffic after Bellfield found him with an exquisite pass.
That started a snowball rolling that ended up looking like a boulder to the Wolf Pack.
Before UNR (1-1) scored again, UNLV (2-0) had rung up 11 points in a row. Jones capped that blast by knuckle-balling a 3-point shot through the net to get the Rebels within 54-53.
The tide had turned, however, and in a major way. Much of the crowd was on its feet, the “Rebbbbb-elllllls” chant had begun and a media timeout with 11:49 left gave the Pack a breather.
UNR tried stemming it with four free throws, but Jones and Marshall and Hawkins were determined to keep rolling.
Seconds before the next media timeout, with 8:12 left, Bellfield cruised in for a layup that capped a devastating 23-4 run to give the Rebels a 65-58 edge.
New UNR coach David Carter called for a timeout, the Rebels’ band struck up “Viva Las Vegas” and Wolf Pack star sophomore forward Luke Babbitt knew it was finished.
“That’s a good team and they have great fans,” Babbitt said. “We played in a hostile environment. We let the fans get into the game ... We can’t let that happen. After that, it was all over.”
The 6-9 Reno native had 14 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. He went 2-for-11 from the field but sank all 10 of his free throws.
Babbitt, and guards Brandon Fields (22 points) and Armon Johnson (14 points) – the trio on which Carter will rely – were all on the court when UNLV poured it on with its reserves.
“They’re a deep team, a really deep team,” Babbitt said of the Rebels. “That hurt us a little bit. They were able to bring in fresh guys. We just weren’t able to hold the 12-point lead.
“We kept the crowd out of it when we were up 12. Give them credit. They turned it on and we weren’t able to respond.”
In that game-changing 23-4 run, Hawkins, Marshall and Jones combined for 17 of UNLV’s points. Hawkins executed a savvy hesitation move in the lane, which he finished with a stylish scoop, for two of his points.
“Maybe some of the fans thought the game was over,” said Hawkins, who had 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting. “The young guns come in, get playing time, lose by 15 or 20 points … not us. We’re winning this game by any means necessary. We HAD to win this game.”
Kruger is going to enjoy his deep roster.
“We have a lot of different combinations and lineups,” he said. “Anthony and Justin have played a lot of basketball in their lives. They know how to play, they’re good competitors and they’re physical.”
“That second squad looked good tonight, looked like the first squad,” said Willis.
“We were playing kind of flat,” Shaw said. “Luckily, once those guys got in they picked up our energy crazy. Justin, Anthony … those guys can run all day. They don’t get tired. They brought a lot of energy for us.”