Steve C. Wilson / AP
Published Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010 | 6:38 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010 | 9:04 p.m.
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Final, Utah wins 66-61
SALT LAKE CITY — UNLV never led in a must-win game, and now finds itself firmly on the NCAA tournament bubble after falling to Utah in Salt Lake City, 66-61
Tre'Von Willis missed a 3-pointer from the left wing after getting a defender off the ground with a shot fake with 20 seconds to play, and three Ute free throws sealed the deal as UNLV dropped its third straight and is now 19-7 overall and 7-5 in the Mountain West.
Willis was the biggest reason the Rebels even had a chance to go ahead late, scoring 32 points, including 20 in the second half.
Instead, UNLV now is in fourth in the Mountain West with four games remaining, beginning with a home tilt at 3 p.m. on Saturday against Colorado State.
Carlon Brown led Utah with 18 points, while Marshall Henderson had 10, including two key free throws in the closing seconds.
For full postgame coverage, stay tuned to lasvegassun.com/rebels.
4:08, second half, Utah leads 59-57
SALT LAKE CITY — Tre'Von Willis earlier in the second half missed the front end of a one-and-one trip to the free throw line with a chance to pull the Rebels to within one point.
The result was a 3-point play on the other end for Utah, putting the Utes back up by six.
Willis has since responded in a big way, scoring 11 of UNLV's last 13 points as the Rebels are back to within two points of the Utes late in a must-win game.
Willis now has 30 points and has crossed the 30-point threshold for the third time this season.
UNLV's highest scorer behind him is Chace Stanback with nine.
11:07, second half, Utah leads 48-42
SALT LAKE CITY — UNLV opened the second half on a 6-0 run to close to within two points with both a pair of jumpers from Oscar Bellfield and strong defense.
And since then, it's simply been a game of run after run.
Utah expanded its lead back out to as many as eight points, but spotty free throw shooting and UNLV's back-court traps of Luka Drca have cut short a few possessions.
Meanwhile, Tre'Von Willis is UNLV's offensive rock.
He just hit a huge third-chance 3-pointer after Anthony Marshall had two layup attempts blocked by Kim Tillie, and UNLV trails 48-42 with 11:07 to go. He has a game-high 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
Now someone else needs to step up alongside him. Chace Stanback, who has six points but has been relatively quiet, would be the likely candidate.
Halftime, Utah leads 35-27
SALT LAKE CITY — UNLV's Tre'Von Willis for a bit put his entire team on his back and brought the Rebels back to within a point at 28-27, but in a blink, Utah went on a 7-0 run to close out the first half.
The Utes lead at the break, 35-27, behind a buzzer 3-pointer by freshman guard Marshall Henderson, who hit five treys against the Rebels the first time around.
UNLV is getting some strong contributions off of the bench after Matt Shaw — who was going to start in place of Brice Massamba — sprained his ankle in pregame warmups.
But Willis scored 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting in the first half to keep UNLV within range in a must-win game.
Here are some other numbers of note from the first half ...
— UNLV was out-rebounded 17-14, with both teams grabbing five offensive rebounds. The most costly board allowed, though, was a Shawn Glover offensive carom which set up Henderson's 3-pointer to close out the half.
— UNLV is just 1-of-6 from 3-point range, and again, Kendall Wallace has been completely bottled up outside. After going 0-for-1 from deep in the San Diego State loss, he hasn't gotten off a shot attempt in seven minutes on the floor.
— Utah is not very pretty on offense, but the Utes are efficient, going 15-of-28 so far.
— Both teams have committed five turnovers.
— Utah has outscored UNLV in the paint, 18-8. However, the Rebels have not let 7-foot-3 David Foster be a difference-maker this time around. The Utah sophomore is scoreless on a pair of shot attempts, has only two rebounds and one blocked shot.
7:49, first half, Utah leads 24-15
SALT LAKE CITY — It was confirmed by UNLV media relations director Andy Grossman that Matt Shaw's sprained ankle was suffered during pregame warm-ups.
That means it's the kind of night where reserve guards Justin Hawkins and Kendall Wallace could be leaned on heavily to help UNLV dig out of an early hole with only a nine-man rotation at Lon Kruger's disposal.
Hawkins hit a mid-range pull-up jumper in his first minute in the game, then earned a trip to the free throw line just before the TV timeout with the Rebels trailing, 24-15.
A good sign early at the moment, however, is that the nerves on the offensive end which appeared present early on are now apparently gone. It's going to come down to defense, with that said.
11:57, 1st half, Utah leads 19-10
SALT LAKE CITY — Matt Shaw was going to start tonight in the front court for the Rebels, but a late injury has him shelved, and UNLV is struggling to keep pace in front of a thin crowd at the Huntsman Center.
The Utes are 8-of-14 from the floor so far, and hold a 19-10 lead on UNLV, who is 4-of-8, but a bit timid on the offensive end.
After an Oscar Bellfield bank shot made it 9-8, Utah, the Utes ripped off a 10-2 run, including a pair of outside jumpers from Chris Hines to send the game into its current full break.
Meanwhile, with Shaw out, Darris Santee has picked up the extra minutes, and has looked a bit off on defense so far.
Still, a positive for the Rebels is that they're attacking the glass well and haven't let Utah's 7-foot-3 David Foster get anything so far.
But UNLV is still getting spread out and has allowed 10 points in the paint.
The Rebels are thin tonight and cannot afford any foul trouble, and Chace Stanback, who is 2-of-3 from the floor so far, has two already.
SALT LAKE CITY — It's a much different story this time around, you can say that much.
When Utah defeated UNLV on Jan. 16 at the Thomas & Mack Center, 73-69 in what at the time was considered an upset, the Utes hoped that would be a turning point for their season. That win made Utah 9-8 overall, but 2-1 in Mountain West play, with a young team appearing to click.
Since then, the Utes are 2-5. Entering tonight's 8 p.m. contest at the Huntsman Center at 11-13 overall and 4-6 in the league, barring some kind of miraculous run through the MWC tourney, their postseason appearance du jour will probably come with the initials CBI.
Meanwhile, this game means a lot more this time around for UNLV. Last time, the meaning was equal, but this time ... not so much.
The Rebels (19-6, 7-4), will still be in contention for an NCAA tourney bid no matter what happens tonight. But if they want to cement those at-large hopes significantly, they need to win.
The rest of Las Vegas seems to know it, too. Even on my way to SLC today at McCarran Airport, two guys working the TSA security line were in a debate over tonight's game. If the Rebels want to keep that buzz going with a win tonight, here are the three keys to making that happen.
1) Chace Stanback needs to play like ... Chace Stanback. He's shot awfully in the Rebels last two games — both 10-point losses at home against New Mexico and at San Diego State — and, in turn, it's made UNLV more and more predictable on the offensive end. If UNLV wants an effective way to attack 7-foot-3 David Foster and spread Utah out, Stanback's mid-range game working would be a nice place to start.
2) UNLV has to shoot better than it has of late across the board — plain and simple. Lon Kruger even said that UNLV is going to look to shoot outside early and often in this one. The last thing they want is a slugfest with Utah. We saw what that produced last time.
3) Anthony Marshall needs to play as a member of UNLV's first team how he did on Saturday in San Diego. He scored 12 points, but was the only one who repeatedly attacked SDSU's size and, in turn, got himself to the free throw line. It was actually a bit of a Wink Adams-like performance. He'll be vital in that role tonight.
As for my pick to click and score prediction, I'm saying Tre'Von Willis has a big night. He hasn't shot well of late, either, and I love the matchup with him against Marshall Henderson. I think he was offended with the way Henderson acted after the game in Las Vegas, and no one can carry out revenge on a grudge like Willis. I'm saying UNLV wins, 74-66.
Talk to you after tip-off.