Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010 | 2:06 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer discuss UNLV's 60-50 triumph over Air Force on Tuesday night at the Mack. Kendall Wallace helped get the Rebels going in the second half, while Derrick Jasper hurting his left knee was the hot topic of the night. The guys take a look at who could emerge if the UNLV junior misses any extended period of time.
But after Jasper went down late in Tuesday night's first half at the Thomas & Mack Center with a left knee injury — initially diagnosed as a sprain — the UNLV junior reserve filled the void by doing what he does best — firing up 3-pointer after 3-pointer.
After missing all three of his attempts in the first half, Wallace hit four straight during a torrid run out of the halftime locker room, ultimately helping lift the Rebels to a 60-50 triumph over a pesky, scrappy Air Force club.
"He does a lot out there on the floor. He's able to create for people, rebound and he's able to score, so I just went out there and tried to do the best I could," Wallace said. "I think we picked up our defense, too, at that time. We were able to get a couple of stops, knock down a couple of shots and when you're able to do that, you're able to get some momentum going. We were able to pull away a little bit there and come out with a win."
Jasper going down in a heap on the defensive end was the toughest blow for UNLV (17-4 overall, 5-2 Mountain West) to absorb in a first half which was nothing short of sluggish.
It happened with just 76 seconds left before the half, as Air Force's Tom Fow drove to the bucket. UNLV forward Matt Shaw stood tall and drew a charge on Fow. As he fell backward, Shaw rolled up on Jasper's left knee.
That's the same knee which Jasper spent his entire redshirt year at UNLV rehabbing following his transfer from Kentucky. While at Kentucky, he had microfracture surgery on the knee following his freshman season. He came back to play his sophomore campaign for the Wildcats before it was fully healed and, in turn, needed to build it back up all over again last year.
He was helped to the bench by head trainer Dave Tomchek, then aided to the locker room with his arms draped over the shoulders of Tomchek and strength and conditioning coach Jason Kabo, with tears welling in his eyes.
Tomchek confirmed later that Jasper will see a doctor on Wednesday morning for further tests and examination.
"It's just one of those freak injuries," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "Everyone's concerned for Derrick. He's battled knee injuries over the last couple, three years. You feel for him because he's worked, fought and rehabbed to get back healthy, and he'd done everything and more that he could do. Now we'll wait and see what happens with this.
"We won't know until we get some MRIs or X-rays or more detail than that. It doesn't feel real good right now, he said. We'll know more in the morning."
Coincidentally, at the time of the injury, he was replaced on the floor by a longtime friend and teammate dating back to their days on the summer prep circuits, Tre'Von Willis.
"I'm not going to lie, that really was tough for me," Willis said. "When you see something like that, it definitely gets your adrenaline going a lot more than it already is. But I definitely feel it. That's like my brother, and I'm just hoping he's all right."
The injury came as Jasper was playing one of his finest halves of basketball in his young UNLV career. At the time, he'd posted three points, four rebounds and four assists in 13 minutes.
In that first half, UNLV had allowed Air Force to set the tone completely, as the Falcons (8-11, 0-6) regularly milked the shot clock for all it was worth and tried to lull the Rebels to sleep.
After trailing by as many as nine points, UNLV chipped away to pull within three at halftime, 24-21. It was the lowest-scoring first half this season.
"The pace of the game was certainly to Air Force's credit and favor," Kruger said of the team that came in allowing fewer points per game than anyone in the league. "They did the things they needed to do to control it. We sped it up on occasion by trapping both three-quarter and half-court, but still, for the most part, Air Force controlled the tempo as they wanted to."
But the Rebels clearly were motivated across the board after returning from the locker room without Jasper.
Willis opened it up with a layup to pull the Rebels within a point, then Wallace buried the first of his four treys from the corner right in front of the student section to give UNLV a lead it would never let go of, helping bust up Air Force's zone defense more and more as he got hotter and hotter.
The Rebels never truly pulled away but were able to hit timely shots late, highlighted by a 3-pointer from Willis with 48 seconds left to put UNLV up by eight.
Overall, the tamed pace of the game partially covered up the fact that UNLV was at least somewhat efficient on the offensive end, shooting 50 percent (22-of-44) from the floor, despite going 7-of-23 from long range.
Willis led all scorers with 13 points, while Chace Stanback and Wallace each added 12 for the Rebels. Meanwhile, Oscar Bellfield was a steadying influence all night from his point guard post, finishing with a career-high 10 assists and no turnovers to go with his four points and four rebounds. Nine of those helpers came in the second half.
Air Force, which dropped its 22nd consecutive Mountain West Conference game, was led by Fow and Grant Parker, who each scored 11 points in reserve roles.
UNLV is off from until next Wednesday's road game at Wyoming. Plenty regarding the team's rotation will be determined between now and then.
In the immediate aftermath of the victory, the Rebels' minds were clearly on Jasper's well-being. Steve Jones, Darris Santee and several other teammates all shared their prayers and well wishes via Twitter.
The team's most notable tribute to Jasper, though, was the second half, which pushed UNLV into its brief layoff with at least something to smile about.
"It wasn't a good feeling, because I know pretty much everything about him and that's crushing if this is serious," Willis said. "I felt for him and it hit me a little bit. I definitely wanted to come out and at least finish this off and get the win for him."