Sunday, Jan. 10, 2010 | 12:01 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Christine Killimayer reflect on what turned out to be The Kendall Wallace Show in Albuquerque on Saturday, as UNLV took down No. 15 New Mexico, 74-62, behind the junior guard's seven 3-pointers. Plus, a look back at what was the first week of Mountain West play.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In Kendall Wallace's world, what everyone watching saw during a magical second half against No. 15 New Mexico is referred to as "the feel."
When "the feel" takes the UNLV junior guard over, the results can change a game on a dime.
In The Pit, in front of a sold-out crowd, that's exactly what happened, as he hit six of his seven 3-point attempts after the half, pacing the Rebels to a 74-62 upset victory on Saturday afternoon to cap a hectic opening week in Mountain West Conference play.
"I had that feel and I was just shooting them without thinking about it," said Wallace, whose career-high 21 points led all scorers. "You get that feel, you get that right release point, that timing down and you feel like you can't miss — and that bucket looks huge."
Wallace was 7-of-10 from long range on the night, but he really found his groove at just the right moment.
UNLV (13-3 overall, 1-1 Mountain West) led 36-30 at the half and had kept a packed crowd of 14,586 quiet thanks to grabbing a 9-2 lead. The Rebels took advantage of the Lobos' defensive laxness in the opening minutes.
But New Mexico (14-3, 0-2) came out strong after the break behind an inspired effort from star junior forward Darington Hobson — a Las Vegas native who moved away after his freshman year at Western High.
The rangy 6-foot-7 wing showed up after scoring only two points on 1-of-3 shooting in the first half, putting up 10 of New Mexico's first 16 points after halftime.
With 10:30 to play in the game, an uncontested Will Brown layup underneath gave the Lobos their first lead of the game, and the crowd increasingly grew louder.
Then, Hobson simply was gassed, dragging his feet up and down the floor, flailing and gasping for air.
Yanking at his jersey to come out of the game, Alford pulled him with 9:22 to go after UNLV's Tre'Von Willis drew a foul and a trip to the line.
Without Hobson out of the game, the Rebels attacked.
Willis hit two free throws to take the lead back, then, two trips up the floor later, still leading 47-46, UNLV's Oscar Bellfield held the ball in the right corner in front of his bench, with only seven seconds showing on the play clock.
He waved for Brice Massamba to clear out of the paint, and Bellfield drove hard down the baseline.
"When Oscar penetrates, he's always looking to pass it out, so I knew I had to spot up," Wallace said. "He went baseline, so we're taught to go to the corner. I drifted deep into the corner and Oscar found me."
Wallace cashed the wide-open attempt, then hit another moments later from almost the same spot that extended UNLV's lead to seven points. Another three then came from Chace Stanback, and with a 56-46 lead and only 6:29 to play, New Mexico never challenged again.
At the time he came out of the game, Hobson had been the most effective player on the floor in the second half. By the time he came back in about three minutes later, it didn't matter much, as the Lobos were deep in the aforementioned hole.
"We had a couple of mismatches and just took advantage of it," Bellfield said of the stretch with Hobson on the bench. "We just took advantage of the open opportunities and really created for each other."
UNLV had 20 assists as a team and only eight turnovers, taking care of the ball consistently from start to finish.
Never was that more important than in the closing minutes. After being plagued by crucial giveaways Wednesday in a late collapse at BYU, the Rebels' focus entering the final minutes was much sharper this time around.
"I think at the BYU game, we played not to lose there at the end, and this game, we wanted to make sure we came out and, if we had the lead, we wanted to make sure we came out and played to win," Wallace said. "We were able to do that, execute on offense at the end, get a few buckets and hold them off."
The idea of playing to win best was displayed out of a New Mexico timeout called with 1:43 left, after the Lobos closed to within six points at 68-62.
UNLV ran a play to feed its hot hand, and Wallace hit his seventh and final trey. On his way back up the floor, he glanced briefly up to the suddenly silenced stands.
In the end, the Rebels made a true statement in what was their most impressive victory to date this season.
On the night, they were 27-of-59 from the floor, with the wealth spread out pretty evenly. On the defensive end, the Rebels held New Mexico to 18-of-50 shooting and, for the most part, silenced the league's most productive 3-point gun — 6-foot-6 senior Roman Martinez. The Lobo forward was just 2-of-7 from long range and as a team New Mexico was only 4-of-18 from deep.
Willis scored 20 points and also registered four assists, two rebounds and two steals. Stanback answered the bell on the glass better than anyone for UNLV following a sloppy team showing Wednesday. He had nine boards — seven on the defensive end — to go with his 14 points.
As far as setting up teammates, Bellfield and Derrick Jasper led the way. Bellfield had seven assists in what was just the second scoreless game of his UNLV career, while Jasper had six assists and only one turnover along with six points and seven rebounds.
"Some of the guys who didn't make as many plays as we'd like them to (at BYU), they made plays today," Willis said.
Added coach Lon Kruger: "Kendall obviously made some big shots to widen the lead out while Tre was nursing some foul trouble. Anthony (Marshall) goes in and makes the big steal. A lot of guys made big plays. Derrick was aggressive; I thought Chace was much more aggressive. We need that out of those guys."
Even though solid performances were checked in across the board and everyone seemingly had their memorable individual moment, Wallace made the biggest statement.
In his teammates' eyes, it was simply his turn.
"On this team, any given guy can step up any given day," Willis added. "Tonight it was Kendall, and we got a team win."