Bryan Oller / AP
Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010 | 2:15 a.m.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — So much for some suspense down the stretch.
In another contest against an over-matched opponent from the bottom portion of the Mountain West Conference standings, UNLV again was able to leave the gym statistically fat and happy, jolting Air Force on Saturday in Colorado Springs, 77-47.
Instead of getting sucked into a slowed-down slugfest, which several recent meetings between the Rebels and Falcons have turned into, UNLV asserted itself early on the defensive end, parlayed that into some prolific offense and then, ultimately, a runaway victory.
Everyone on the UNLV side who was asked afterward if they expected things to be so lopsided responded with a simple "definitely not."
"Coming into Air Force, it's always tough to play up here," junior guard Kendall Wallace said. "They play a whole different style of basketball and we came out today and were able to frustrate them offensively, knock down some open shots and pull away there."
Wallace had a key role in blowing the game wide open early, as he hit two 3-pointers during a crucial 17-0 first half run. That spurt began with UNLV up just 9-7 following a 3-pointer from Air Force's Evan Washington, bringing a brief jolt to the sparse home crowd of 2,430.
Sweltering defensive pressure sped up the normally patient Falcons, who run the slowed-down and precise Princeton offense. That caused a slew of turnovers, and the Rebels' collective hot shooting made matters that much worse for the hosts.
"That's a hard club to do that to, and our guys did a really sharp, alert job on both ends," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "There weren't many peaks and valleys, really."
Kruger wasn't just being generous in mentioning how difficult it can be to blow out Air Force. Aside from the Falcons nearly upsetting No. 10 New Mexico down in Albuquerque a week ago, this was the first time in five meetings between the two programs in which either team had scored more than 60 points.
And everyone had a hand in the blowout.
Leading the way was Chace Stanback, who tallied a career-high 21 points on crisp 8-of-13 shooting which included a trio of 3-pointers. He also added eight rebounds, two assists and two steals into the mix.
Wallace finished with 15 points on 5-of-8 3-point shooting, while Oscar Bellfield had 12 points — including four deep balls — and six assists while playing a team-high 30 minutes.
As a team, UNLV was 30-of-51 from the floor, hit a season-high 13 3-pointers, out-rebounded Air Force 31-18 and racked up 24 assists.
For the Rebels, there was really nothing to scoff at anywhere on the box score.
"From the beginning of the game, I knew that we were really ready and knew how important the game was, so I knew that we were going to come out real strong together playing as a team and play real well," Bellfield said. "We're slowly coming back together. "
The recovery from a recent three-game skid, which concluded last Wednesday with a 66-61 setback at Utah, indeed appears to have almost come full circle.
After further padding their NCAA tournament resumé on Saturday, the Rebels now have an entire week off before the regular season finale next Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack Center against Wyoming. The Cowboys are destined to meet Air Force in the No. 8 vs. No. 9 "play-in" game to open the league tournament in two weeks.
The timing is perfect, in a way, as UNLV also now has a week to get back to normal in terms of its rotation.
Chances are both forward Matt Shaw and guard Derrick Jasper will return to the practice floor this week. Shaw has missed the team's last three games after spraining his left ankle before last Wednesday's game in Salt Lake City, while Jasper has missed eight with a partially torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee.
"We like the week to prepare at this point," Kruger said. "Especially to get Matt back, to get Derrick back — as wishful thinking. We don't know, but we'd like to see what they can do when we throw them in there this week and see where they're at."
There's no pressure on either Shaw or Jasper to rush back, though. Without them, UNLV has shown against three consecutive struggling opponents that with the right mindset going in, there's little to stress about.
During their current three-game run, the Rebels have won each game by an average margin of 25.7 points. Next Saturday could very well turn into more of the same, as UNLV smashed Wyoming in Laramie in the first meeting back on Feb. 3 by a count of 78-50.
"We came out really hard," Stanback said of Saturday's effort. "And everything happened for us, it was all on our side."