Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Published Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011 | 6 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011 | 8:41 p.m.
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Final, UNLV wins 77-74
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — UNLV forward Quintrell Thomas has slowly come out of his shell in conference play, and may have completely broken through on Wednesday night.
The Kansas transfer scored a career-high 19 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in a thrilling 77-74 overtime victory at New Mexico, improving UNLV to 21-7 overall and 9-5 in Mountain West play.
It pulled UNLV into a tie in the loss column with Colorado State for third place in the league. The Rams lost earlier in the night at BYU, 84-76, and UNLV swept a crucial two-game road trip. That sweep also likely punches the Rebels' ticket for a fourth NCAA tournament berth in five years.
Thomas scored six points in the overtime frame after Dairese Gary's buzzer-beating attempt for New Mexico at the end of regulation fell off of the rim.
Tre'Von Willis scored 25 points for UNLV, including a career-high five 3-pointers, while Oscar Bellfield tallied 15.
Gary scored a game-high 26 for New Mexico, who falls to 17-11 overall and 5-8 in the league.
UNLV will try to make it three wins in a row in their regular season home finale on Saturday night when Wyoming comes to town.
For full postgame coverage, stay tuned to lasvegassun.com/rebels.
End of Regulation, game tied 67-67
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A last-second shot for the win by senior guard Dairese Gary fell off of the iron, and that will send UNLV and New Mexico to overtime in Albuquerque, tied 67-67.
Oscar Bellfield tied the game for UNLV with a layup seconds earlier after a missed Gary free throw left UNLV needing just a two-point bucket to tie.
UNLV enters the frame with Chace Stanback having fouled out and Anthony Marshall on the bench, which is where he was for a good portion of the game's stretch run.
7:35, Second Half, UNLV leads 59-56
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A Dairese Gary 3-pointer pulled New Mexico to within as close as one a minute again, and UNLV is in dire foul trouble with more than seven minutes still left to play in The Pit.
Anthony Marshall hushed the crowd a tad with a put-back dunk off of an Oscar Bellfield miss, but UNLV is now without Chace Stanback, who fouled out in just nine minutes on the floor moments ago.
New Mexico is 8-of-16 from the floor in the second half, while UNLV has cooled at 9-21.
11:22, Second Half, UNLV leads 57-47
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — UNLV is still holding New Mexico at arm's length, but may be flirting with fire now.
New Mexico has drawn nine fouls this half and is nearing the double-bonus with more than 11 minutes still left on the clock.
The Rebels are being kept afloat by the finest offensive performance this season from senior guard Tre'Von Willis, who has 25 points on 9-of-10 shooting. His five 3-pointers made tonight are a new career-high.
But the Lobos are hitting big shot after big shot to answer back, and drawing fouls in the process. Chace Stanback has four fouls for the Rebels, and expect UNM to attack him at will to get him out of the game during this comeback.
Halftime, UNLV leads 35-29
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — UNLV used one of its most efficient offensive halves in two months to build a 35-29 halftime lead in The Pit over New Mexico tonight.
The Rebels are 13-of-23 from the floor and 5-of-10 from 3-point range with seven assists and only five turnovers. Tre'Von Willis is leading the effort in the point column with a game-high 13 on 5-of-5 shooting, including a trio of 3-pointers.
On the other end, UNLV forced nine UNM turnovers, with Oscar Bellfield and Willis each recording two steals. The Rebels have taken away the open 3-point looks from Tony Snell and are forcing some bad shots from the Lobos, with UNM going 10-of-24 in the first 20 minutes. The hosts have also left some points at the stripe, hitting only six of 11 attempts.
The key for UNLV is staying level on the offensive end and keeping up the defense. It might get a bit less challenging if Dairese Gary can't go for the Lobos. The team's senior leader, who has 11 points so far, hobbled up the famed ramp and into the UNM locker room with the training staff with 20 seconds remaining in the opening stanza.
3:42, First Half, UNLV leads 31-23
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Fans have been clamoring for it for a while now, and UNLV coach Lon Kruger finally went with two of his three big men on the floor at the same time.
As a result, the Rebels have stretched their lead in The Pit over New Mexico to 31-23.
Brice Massamba and Quintrell Thomas took the floor together just under the 10-minute mark in the first half. Thomas showed strong aggression on the boards and drew the second foul of the game on UNM's Drew Gordon.
Then, on the offensive end, the advantage of two bigs on the floor at once was seen in a nice play from the high post. Tre'Von Willis fed Massamba at the free throw line, he drove in, drew a double-team and bounced it to Thomas for an uncontested dunk.
The Rebels are also still shooting the ball well from the outside, as an Oscar Bellfield three made them 5-of-8 as a team from deep.
11:34, First Half, game tied 18-18
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — UNLV's hot 3-point shooting from Saturday's second half in Fort Collins has carried over to tonight's game in Albuquerque, as four early makes from the outside have the Rebels neck-and-neck with the Lobos.
Tre'Von Willis is 3-for-3 from deep, while Oscar Bellfield hit one of his own. On the defensive end, though, UNLV is beginning to pile up fouls as New Mexico has stayed aggressive.
UNLV appears to be using the 3-point shot as a means of opening things up elsewhere on the floor, as after the early barrage, they went inside a bit more aggressively.
The key for UNLV, it appears, will be keeping Dairese Gary quiet, as the inconsistent senior has seven quick points for New Mexico and is diving into the interior of the Rebels' defense at will.
As for the atmosphere, it's been loud when UNM is scoring, but not as consistently venomous as it has been in the past. I guess a 5-7 record in Mountain West play can have that effect. Still, ever seat appears to be filled.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The exterior looks completely modernized, the concourses are brand new, there's plenty of swanky suites and also a pair of beautiful high-definition video boards.
But it's still The Pit at heart, and UNLV will be facing as tough a road atmosphere as it'll find in the Mountain West Conference tonight at 6 p.m.
For the second time this Mountain West Conference season, the Lobos (17-10 overall, 5-7 MWC) have endured a 3-game losing streak. The latest blow came on Saturday in the form of a shocking 62-60 loss at home at the buzzer to lowly Utah.
Still, a big crowd is expected, as UNLV (20-7, 8-5) draws the angst out of this fan base better than just about anyone in the league.
Let's take a look at three things to watch as the night unfolds here in Albuquerque, N.M.
1) Drew Gordon controlled the glass in the first meeting, as the UCLA transfer pulled won 13 rebounds for the Lobos in a 63-62 loss in Las Vegas. He gave New Mexico plenty of second-chance opportunities. UNLV is coming off of a performance Saturday at Colorado State in which it only allowed five offensive rebounds to the Rams. Chace Stanback had nine defensive boards, and was as aggressive as ever underneath. Can he repeat his showing from Saturday against Andy Ogide and Travis Franklin tonight?
2) Plain and simple: Can UNLV stroke the three like it did the other night, hitting eight of them in Fort Collins? The Rebels have only shot better than 40 percent from deep in three of 13 league games this year, and one was the first meeting with the Lobos. The 3-point shooting last year in this game helped the Rebels silent the crowd.
3) How healthy is Dairese Gary? The first team All-MWC performer from a year ago is still playing inconsistent ball as a senior, and he's toughing out some nagging injuries along the way. He was solid and stayed on the floor in the loss to UNLV last month. The Lobos need him on the floor for 30-plus minutes tonight, no matter how effective he is.
As for a prediction, I'm again giving a slight lean to the home team. I'll take New Mexico, 65-62. My Pick to Click for the Rebels is Anthony Marshall, who always thrives in this match-up.
I'll be back just a bit after tip-off. Remember, join in the conversation below on Twitter by adding the #unlvmbb tag to your in-game tweets. Also, give me a follow on Twitter at twitter.com/ryanmgreene.