Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Nov. 26, 2009 | 12:30 a.m.
After passing the ball to Willis at the top of the key, Jasper drifted around the right side of the Crusaders’ 2-3 zone defense inside the Thomas & Mack Center.
Jasper caught Willis’s lob in perfect position for the throw-down and a 22-point advantage, and UNLV kept cruising to an 80-59 victory over Holy Cross.
Rebels coach Lon Kruger slipped the play into the game plan Monday.
“Tre threw a great pass,” Jasper said. “We have a lot of athleticism on this team and we need to use a lot more, but we’re playing real well. We have to prepare well for Louisville.”
The 16th-ranked Cardinals (4-0) visit Las Vegas on Saturday afternoon, but the Rebels (4-0) showed Wednesday that they did not overlook the Crusaders (0-5) of the Patriot League.
“We could have easily been down by five points and regretted looking past them,” said sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield. “That’s something we shouldn’t do, and I don’t think anyone did that. We focused on Holy Cross.
“Now it’s the time we can really think about Louisville.”
UNLV pressed and trapped and hounded Holy Cross into committing 24 turnovers, which the Rebels turned into 32 points. The Crusaders collected only 7 points off 10 miscues by the Rebels.
“We want to be able to hurry teams up,” said UNLV junior guard Kendall Wallace, “make them play a little faster than they’re comfortable with. We were able to do that tonight and take advantage of the turnovers we force.”
Jasper disrupted the most, with four of the Rebels’ dozen steals, and sophomore forward Chace Stanback had three.
Two of Holy Cross’s defeats were tight, a two-point defeat at St. Joe’s and a three-point loss to Loyola of Illinois.
“We knew they’ve had some close losses,” Wallace said. “We knew they were a solid team. We were told they were picked to win the Patriot League, so we knew we had to come out ready to play.”
New Crusaders coach Sean Kearney, Mike Brey’s former top assistant at Notre Dame, was left to call many timeouts to stop the bleeding.
Bellfield’s 3-pointer from the right corner, reserve center Darris Santee's steal and ensuing break-away jam and his strong layin on the right side on UNLV’s next possession gave the Rebels a 16-8 lead.
Near the end of the first half, starting center Brice Massamba's strong rebound of Bellfield’s miss and powerful put-back gave UNLV a 31-20 cushion.
The three-headed combo of Massamba, Santee and Matt Shaw combined to score 14 points and grab 9 rebounds, solid if unspectacular figures that Kruger will take after last season’s doughnut season.
(That’s nothing in the middle.)
Holy Cross didn’t threaten to cut its deficit to single digits the rest of the way.
UNLV held a 47-33 edge about four minutes into the second half when Willis first tried to zip that lob to Jasper for the alley-oop exclamation point.
“Tre passed it a little too high, and I didn’t jump a little high enough,” Jasper said.
Since practice opened, the Rebels have been talking about how they’re so much deeper and so much more athletic than in recent seasons, and they vowed to produce such highlight plays.
A few players missing dunks in the first few games didn’t promote that desire very well, then came Willis tossing that pass into the stands.
“I don’t know how you overthrow Derrick, with his long arms and leaping ability,” Wallace said. “But Tre managed to. He was able to improve his second pass for a good dunk by Derrick.
“We definitely like to hype up the fans a little bit, give them what they want to see. It was good to see that and we’d like to do more of that.”
It was not good timing for Holy Cross, which had crept to within 15 points, at 61-46, of UNLV. But after a free throw by Hawkins, Kruger unleashed his trapping press with his starters.
It flustered the Crusaders, and Willis sliced in for an easy layup. Then Bellfield sank a 3-point shot from the left corner. Kearney called timeout. Then came a media timeout.
With 7 1/2 minutes left, Willis brought the hammer down. Jasper curled around the right side and Holy Cross forgot about him. Willis’s pass was perfect.
Jasper’s jam, his only basket of the game, gave UNLV a 69-47 lead.
“No, that wasn’t just two points,” said R.J. Evans, who led Holy Cross with 13 points. “That was a demoralizing play. It was miscommunication by us. That dunk really hurt us at the end.”
It coaxed a mostly quiet crowd of 10,946 into the “Rebbbbb-elllllls!” chant. Soon enough, Kearney was calling for another timeout.
“If it doesn’t work, just keep trying it until you get it,” Bellfield said of the Willis-to-Jasper hookup. “We made a couple of changes and waited a little while to run it again, and they forgot about it.
“And we executed it to perfection. This is just a start. We’ll keep it going.”