REBELS BASKETBALL:

UNLV caps trip with 76 Classic crown, defeating Virginia Tech, 71-59

Rebels again show off balance, defense and depth; will likely be ranked in both Top 25 polls

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AP Photo/Chris Carlson

UNLV team members mob Chace Stanback after their win against Virginia Tech at the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010. UNLV won 71-59.

UNLV. vs. Virginia Tech

UNLV guard Anthony Marshall, left, and Virginia Tech guard Terrell Bell vie for a rebound at the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010. Launch slideshow »

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Sunday's Other 76 Classic Results

10:30 A.M. Stanford 81, DePaul 74 (OT)

1:00 P.M. Tulsa 80, Cal State Northridge 63

3:00 P.M. Oklahoma State 66, Murray State 49

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Tre'Von Willis joked Sunday that he would have been excited if some free gas from the tournament's corporate sponsor came with winning the 76 Classic.

But what the Rebels took with them on the bus back to Las Vegas will get them more mileage.

Sure, there was a haul of hardware after defeating Virginia Tech on Sunday, 71-59, at the Anaheim Convention Center.

But over the course of four days, UNLV (6-0) padded its already impressive non-conference resumé, put on three strong-to-dominating performances in front of national TV audiences, proved it can force its in-your-face style on almost anyone and, maybe most importantly, won't be pushed around.

"That's the difference between this team and last year's team — we're willing to be physical," Willis said. "For a minute, we kind of struggled for a nice little stretch. We held it together. I think that shows the resiliency of this team."

Willis is spot-on with the contrast.

Last Christmas, in its third game in four days, UNLV was punched in the mouth at the start of the Diamond Head Classic title game against a big, physical Southern Cal team and never recovered, ultimately losing 67-56.

Virginia Tech (4-2) hit the Rebels hardest early on the scoreboard, jumping out to a 10-2 lead in the opening minutes.

UNLV chipped back in with a 3-point play from Quintrell Thomas and an Anthony Marshall dunk, then, as it had in two previous games over the holiday weekend, let the defense do the talking.

Everyone contributed on both ends for the Rebels as they constructed a 37-30 halftime lead, scoring 14 points off 10 Hokies turnovers. UNLV kept applying backcourt pressure with double-teams and traps, and Virginia Tech's lack of depth and a true point guard was revealed.

"They've done a good job taking people out of what they run and they're taking a lot of pride in that," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "Meeting the ball early in the backcourt is when I think we're in our comfort zone."

How Virginia Tech worked its way back in was by using all sorts of different zone looks on defense, flashing 1-3-1, 2-3, triangle-and-2 and box-and-1 looks at various times.

The Rebels were confused for a good portion of the game against the zones, having not seen much of them before Sunday night and having little time to prepare for those of the Hokies.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech star senior guard Malcolm Delaney — last year's leading scorer in the ACC — was the team's offensive pulse.

He scored a game-high 30 points, including 7-of-9 3-point shooting, and was the only player to stay on the floor for the full 40 minutes.

But he had no consistent help.

His backcourt flanker, senior Dorenzo Hudson, was scoreless on 0-for-7 shooting in 36 minutes, and UNLV's pressure threw everyone but Delaney for a loop.

Delaney willed the Hokies back to within two points with 16:19 left to play at 43-41. He hit a pair of free throws following an intentional foul call against Oscar Bellfield for a thrown elbow that was reviewed by the officials.

After that, though, the Rebels appeared to throw things into another gear.

They outscored the Hokies 28-18 to finish the game and held them to just 6-of-16 shooting. Four of those buckets came from a visibly frustrated Delaney.

On the other end, the Rebels were able to make adjustments and figure out how to score effectively against the zone.

Quick entry passes to cutters along the baseline resulted in easy dunks and layups, and after Virginia Tech shrunk its zones down in the final minutes, Willis swooped in to play the role of the closer.

In the game's final 5:04, he scored seven of the Rebels' nine points, including a pair of 3-pointers. The second trey came from the left corner with 1:42 to play. It was the result of a driving Anthony Marshall drawing two defenders and kicking out unselfishly. It was the dagger, putting UNLV up 69-56.

The late-game heroics clearly made Willis feel like the guy who a year ago averaged a team-high 17.2 points per game and was a first-team All-Mountain West Conference performer.

Coming off both a four-game suspension and arthroscopic knee surgery in August, he still doesn't look quite as smooth or explosive on the floor as he did eight months ago, but his experience was what made him valuable in a pinch.

"This is my fifth year in college, and I've been playing basketball since I was a young'n," he said. "I've been doing this a long time, I do know kind of every scenario out there on the floor, what they're trying to do to us and what we want to do to them and how things will look before running the play.

"It's been a long time coming. I don't think I've celebrated this year, except for off the floor."

Willis scored 14 points, and his 31 minutes off the bench were his most in four games played this season.

While he came up big for the Rebels on Sunday, junior forward Chace Stanback was rewarded afterward for his weekend as a whole.

In a homecoming of sorts, the Los Angeles native received a trophy, a watch and an ovation from teammates and fans after being named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. His strong three-game stretch was capped with a 17-point, 8-rebound performance against the Hokies.

Thomas continued to break out of his early-season slump, scoring 14 points and coming up with three key rebounds in 17 minutes. He was 6-of-7 from the floor and 15-of-17 in the tournament. Marshall had 10 points, four rebounds, four assists and several notable defensive highlights.

UNLV was mistake-free for much of the game, committing only nine turnovers across from 19 assists. On the other end, the relentless pressure from the Rebels forced 18 turnovers for the Hokies. Seth Greenberg's team couldn't work the ball consistently into the paint, and was outscored in the interior, 34-14.

Virginia Tech's depleted bench was also of little help. The Rebels' reserves produced 24 points, compared to the Hokies' three.

"Everyone's playing well — you can't look at anyone on our team and say they're not playing very well," Willis added. "I think if anybody, it would have been me. I think I can pick my play up and I think that can be a plus. But I think we're playing very well."

UNLV, who will likely be ranked in both Top 25 polls come Monday afternoon, brandished its toughness, athleticism, balance and depth on the successful Thanksgiving trip. The Rebels had their eyes opened to just how high of a ceiling they might have moving forward.

Now, the team will turn around quickly and have to show that it can stay focused when not playing in the spotlight.

In a game that many will label as a 'trap,' the Rebels travel more than 1,700 miles to Normal, Ill., to take part in a non-televised Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge game at Illinois State (5-1) on Wednesday night.

"It feels good to win a championship," Willis said. "We're using this as a start."

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  1. Great job, as always, on reporting, however, i want to see more video-post game interviews with players/coaches. i know its hard to catch the players and coaches sometimes as well, but at least give me the post-game presser. you know, the one in front of that backdrop thing! anyways.. thats my only request, other than that, great job!

    Go Rebels!

  2. We deliver that following every home game, Zerocals. Road games we only travel myself.

  3. Does anybody know what are shooting percentage was last night.

  4. By the way, Tre'Von was not joking about the free gas.

  5. Shooting Percentage was a "meager" 53.4%. I think yesterday we were sitting at #2 in the country in FG%. What's amazing to me is that it looked to me as if we were somewhat stagnant on offense for large portions of the game, but still managed to score so many points and shoot at such a high percentage. This team is dangerous!

  6. Did I really read that correct about Wednesday's game. The game is not on TV? That seems like the most retarded thing becuase this is supposed to be the MWC challenge. This sucks!!!!

  7. Where are all the nay-sayers that predicted doom and gloom. Our guys handled everything that was thrown at them. "Interesting" officiating, zone defense, maintaining a lead AND coming from behind. All of that with argueably our best player still coming into form. I was very impressed with the way all 3 games went and hope that QT and Lopez both come up to speed.

  8. I loved how they handled the adversity of being down early. It showed a lot of character. It is so exciting to watch our press and defensive tenacity! I can't believe we can keep up that level for just about the entire game. It's great have our depth!

  9. You can order the game online. just click on the watch link to sign up.
    http://www.goredbirds.com/sports/m-baskb...

  10. Not sure how long it will stay up, but the Rebels are currently the top story on ESPN's college basketball front page (http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketba...)

    Reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeebels!

  11. Great showing in the 76 Classic. I don't think we have seen that kind of defensive intensity over a three game stretch since the last sweet sixteen season. Hopefully Lon will continue to allow them to press like that. In particular, Stanback's length presents an awful lot of problems in the press.

    I think my two favorite moments from the tournament were the hustle blocks from behind by Bellfield on the Tulsa big late in the first half and Marshall's block on the Murray State player early in the second half. Those are great illustrations if one wants to gauge defensive effort.

    Hopefully the confidence they have gained will propel them moving forward. If Tre can get it going to complement Stanback's emerging consistancy, and the bigs continue to improve throughout the season this can be a very good team. Don't sleep though on Illinois State Wednesday. That is no gimmie.

  12. UNLV #24 in the AP rankings. REBELS!!!!

  13. UNLV #23 in ESPN coaches poll

  14. Way to go Rebels, lets keep it up, still got some tough out of conference games ahead. I am really excited for K-state and Louisville. We are the champions!!!!! GO REBELS!!!!!!!!

  15. Who was it who said Thomas is the worst UNLV player since Brick Robinson?

  16. That was special! It sure was nice to see them finish off this tournament strong and avoid the let down we had last year against a big strong USC club. I don't know what it is but this Rebel team does seem stronger. Our inside presence, Thomas, Massamba & Lopez, is tougher and much more aggressive. The defense of the whole team is tougher and more aggressive. From the way things looked against VA.Tech aggressive may be an understatement! In the immortal words of Mr. Pitino "they play defense like it's the last supper!" GO REBELS REDBIRDS NEXT!!!