REBELS BASKETBALL:

Quintrell Thomas gets UNLV over the hump in 77-74 overtime win at New Mexico

Sophomore forward goes for 19 points, 13 rebounds as Rebels complete sweep of crucial two-game road swing

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Quintrell Thomas dunks on New Mexico during Wednesday’s Mountain West Conference game at The Pit in Albuquerque. UNLV won 77-74 in overtime.

UNLV @ New Mexico Basketball

UNLV players Brice Massamba, Chace Stanback, Justin Hawkins and Karam Mashour celebrate taking the lead late against New Mexico during Wednesday's Mountain West Conference game at The Pit in Albuquerque. UNLV won 77-74 in overtime. Launch slideshow »

UNLV vs. New Mexico

KSNV coverage of UNLV vs. New Mexico basketball game, Feb. 23, 2011.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Running up the famed, steep ramp to the visitor's locker room at The Pit one last time on Wednesday night, UNLV's Quintrell Thomas finally realized just how gassed he was.

It was just moments earlier when, while running on a mixture of fumes and adrenaline, the sophomore forward capped off the finest performance of his young collegiate career. He carried the Rebels through a grueling five-minute overtime period in a 77-74 victory at New Mexico.

"I'm not gonna lie, I was exhausted down the stretch, and I was definitely fighting as hard as I could every single time down the floor," he said. "I definitely didn't want to come out of the game, because I felt like I was giving us the best chance to win."

He's right. He was.

After the Rebels (21-7 overall, 9-5 Mountain West) squandered a 15-point second-half lead and trailed in the final minute of regulation, they scraped enough together to force overtime, and in the bonus frame, Thomas scored three key, difficult buckets. That put the finishing touches on a 19-point, 13-rebound performance.

It also completed a sweep of a monster two-game road swing, which began on Saturday with a 68-61 victory at Colorado State. Pulling off both wins was something that didn't look like a very strong possibility just a week ago after the Rebels played their ugliest game of the season in a 49-42 home win against Air Force.

A lot has changed since then, and the proof is visible.

"We're playing hard, and we're playing smarter," senior guard Tre'Von Willis said. "That's what's propelling us right now over the top."

The smart, efficient play that keyed UNLV's memorable second-half spurt on Saturday in Fort Collins, Colo., carried over into Wednesday's first half.

A crowd of 15,346 was kept silent for 20 minutes as the Rebels came out firing, taking a 35-29 lead at the intermission. In that stretch, they were 13-of-23 from the floor with only five turnovers. The patience and ball movement was crisp, and the zones thrown at them by New Mexico (17-11, 5-8) were never an issue.

Willis was carrying the load offensively, scoring 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting, while the team defensive effort was on point.

UNLV climbed ahead by as many as 15 points early in the second half, but the course of the game shifted quickly as the Rebels were whistled for a bevy of fouls in the first 10 minutes out of the locker room. At one point, New Mexico held a foul edge down the stretch run of 12-3.

The Lobos were shaky at the free throw line but hit enough of them, mixed with some clutch buckets, to make it a thriller late.

Up one with under 30 seconds to go, UNLV was forced to foul after an Oscar Bellfield missed 3-point try. New Mexico senior stalwart Dairese Gary split a pair at the line, Bellfield tied the game at 67-67 moments later, and Gary's attempt at the buzzer from close range fell off of the iron.

That's when Thomas busted out.

Willis drove hard and tried to draw a foul on an awkward heave early in overtime, but Thomas rose out of nowhere to grab the carom and stick it back over a Lobos defender, giving UNLV a 72-70 lead that it wouldn't relinquish.

It wasn't Thomas's first big game of the conference season, but it was his first against one of the league's elite front lines. He went toe to toe all night with New Mexico star forward Drew Gordon and came out on top.

"He was up and above everyone," Kruger said. "I thought his effort on the boards was terrific."

As for Willis, he produced a season-high 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including a career-high five 3-pointers. He also tallied four assists and four steals, playing sticky defense the entire way.

It was quite the effort for a guy who almost didn't play at all.

Willis banged up his left knee on Saturday at Colorado State. It's the right knee which required offseason surgery and has nagged him this season, but after hardly practicing the last couple of days, Willis was a game-time decision.

"Trials and tribulations," he said of a season that's been nothing but a roller coaster. "It's been a helluva year."

In the end, the Rebels probably gained more from the experience by winning after blowing the second half lead than they might have had the Lobos never made their big push back from the abyss.

"It shows that we can grind games out," Thomas said. "We know that past this point, all games are like that. Games in the (NCAA) tournament, there's no blowouts. Every game is a grind-it-out. This game proves a lot to ourselves and maybe to our fans."

The feeling in and outside of the locker room on Saturday in Fort Collins was one of relief, while on Wednesday, there was much more excitement mixed in. The players could be heard celebrating behind the door, and the normally reserved coaching staff even joined in.

Though no one in the program likes to talk about its postseason future, sweeping the crucial road trip all but punched UNLV's ticket back to the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in the last five seasons.

The Rebels return home to face struggling Wyoming on Saturday in their regular season home finale, then will close out the conference schedule the following Saturday at Utah.

At this point, they're playing for not just NCAA tourney seeding but also to secure third place in the Mountain West. UNLV on Wednesday pulled into a tie in the loss column with Colorado State, who lost 84-76 at BYU and still has a road game remaining at San Diego State.

Above all of that, the Rebels are again playing inspired ball after proving to themselves that they could rekindle some of the early season magic that it appeared may have been lost as late as just a week ago.

"After the Air Force game, I think people understood that we couldn't keep things going the way they were," Thomas said. "There are guys who are stepping up and making shots now, because we couldn't run from the problem. I definitely feel like now we're moving in the right direction."

More Stats of Note: The Rebels' NCAA-record streak for consecutive games with a 3-pointer made reached 800 in the opening minutes following a Bellfield trey from the corner. They remain the only program to hit one in every game since its inception to start the 1986-87 season … UNLV's leading scorer on the season, Chace Stanback, scored only two points in nine minutes before fouling out. It was his fewest minutes played in a game in two seasons with the Rebels … New Mexico's Dairese Gary led all scorers with 26 points, while Drew Gordon finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds … New Mexico's Tony Snell, who buried key shots in UNLV's 63-62 victory over the Lobos in Las Vegas in January, had his worst night in a while. The 6-foot-7 sharpshooting freshman had one point and was 0-for-4 from 3-point range in 25 minutes.

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  1. Good game rebs! We finally looked like a complete team. Good consistent shooting from the outside, and the bigs, especially Q., were a presence in the middle. I think Q. is giving us a little taste of what could be to come in the next couple years. I also liked the lineup with two bigs. I've been hard on kruger but he finally made some good adjustments lastnight. All in all good effort by everyone and lets keep this thing rolling against the cowboys!

  2. Two Bigs at the same time!

    I think maybe Lopez should be one of the 2 bigs since he's probably the best away from the basket, but he did have foul trouble, right?

  3. If you would have told me that Chace and Anthony would been a combined 4-13 from the floor for 8 pts, both foul out and we would be 11-21 from the line while New mexico attempted 37; I would have told you double digit loss. I am still scratching my head on how we won that game! Thank God for Tre and Q. Glad to have that one in the win column!

  4. I was very impressed by this team last night. They had that 5-7 minute stretch in the second half where they started playing dumb basketball, turning it over and jacking up bad shots, but for most of the game it was pretty solid. I, like most of you, thought we were done after blowing that lead with the foul trouble we had, but the guys fought through and pulled out a tough one in The Pit.
    Couple of other thoughts:
    - Like David said, " Two Bigs at the same time!" That feed from Massamba to QT for the dunk was beautiful... hopefully we see more of it.
    - Where have you been Trevon Willis? Even with a banged up knee, he finally started looking like the Trevon from last year.
    - 31-17. That was the foul margin last night. There was a few minute stretch where every single time UNM drove the ball, there was a quick whistle, often before someone really even got close. I usually don't come on and hammer refs, but that was especially bad.

  5. Agree with Mike- 10 fouls in a 2 1/2 minute stretch. And nothing at the other end- Willis was continually being hacked and they never called it.

    Don't understand why Hawkins was not in the game guarding Gary. Gary was abusing Tre once he picked up 4 fouls and having Jasper in the game is a total waste. Never seen a 5th year senior play so scared.

  6. Fantastic win for the Rebels, true grit, proud of our boys acting like men on the road.

    Arzent
    http://rebelsunlv.blogspot.com/

  7. Was at the game. I saw some great maturity from the Rebels when UNM made their run and in overtime. They didn't seem to be rattled (as much a reflection of their coach as it was a display of their character) and just kept grinding. It was impressive.

    The Pit is a magical place for college hoops. I see teams come in here (BYU, for example) and fall victim to the atmosphere all the time. UNLV didn't. Very cool.

  8. As soon as we got up by 15, the refs made it a point to get NM back in the game. It was one of the most atrocious officiated games i've ever seen.

    Thank you Lon for finally adjusting your line-up when we were getting beat on the offensive boards. I honestly couldn't believe my eyes to see Q and Massamba in at the same time. It made a huge difference in the game.

  9. I love the fact that this year's team can feature a number of players having the big game. Great performances by Tre and Q. Clutch bucket by Bellfield at the end of regulation! Rebels are starting to come together at the right time. I won't be surprised if they upset SDSU or BYU at the MWC tournament. They will have to upset them both to win it.

  10. I loved two bigs at once but I don't know if Kruger will do it again cause it means more mins. Which unfortunately meant for fouls on our bigs. I personally thought the result outweight the fouls but I don't know if Kruger will agree.

  11. What a great win. Blowing the 15 point lead was stressful but this team showed some heart by seeing this one through.

    I agree with MikeLange and khokol that the 2nd half officiating was a disgrace. I got the feeling that after they called that ridiculous tech on the UNM bench the refs realized it was raw deal and basically let the Lobos do whatever they wanted while blowing a whistle on the Rebs on every defensive posession. I think Ryan's right. We probably got more out of blowing that lead and winning than blowing them out.

  12. There's no "maybe" about it Q. You proved to all of us that you can win in the most hostile of environments, and that you, personally, can be one of the best big men in the conference! Love this win, now it would be nice if we could take one from SDSU and BYU in the tournament, then make a little noise in the NCAAs. When the Rebels run, we can run with anyone.

  13. I once heard a rumor that the NCAA had an understanding that UNLV would never get any calls because of Tark, but after watching a few games this season (last night and any game against BYU), I'm starting to believe it.

    Anyway, I love J-Hawk's energy and defense, but (to steal from Bill Simmons), he definitely takes some things off the table. His defense is like bread rolls, but his inability to score/rebound takes away the salad and entree. I would much rather see Q/Lopez/Massamba/Mashour bring the meat (interior scoring and clogging the middle) and potatoes (rebounding).

    Either way, the team is playing great, and I'm looking forward to the Wyoming game on Saturday. Hopefully we see two bigs again, some garbage time minutes for Tyler and Martinez, and some time for Mashour to actually play some meaningful minutes.

  14. Very glad to see Tre have this kind of game. It's obviously been a tough year for him. Same with Q. The flashes of what he's capable of doing consistently have been encouraging, and you know no one wants to put it all together like he does.

    Gotta remember that, while they play like men, these guys are kids. You have to be happy to see them enjoy success.

    The conference tournament is going to be ridiculous.

  15. I hate looking to the future, as I think teams should always take it one game at a time, but if the rankings in the Mountain West finish out as they are right now, UNLV is going to have a helluva time trying to win it's first game, let alone the tournament.

    Granted, this is all speculation with teams still needing to play two to three games... but in this league anything can happen.

    If I'm not mistaken, the rankings are as follows:

    1. SDSU
    2. BYU
    3. UNLV
    4. CSU
    5. UTAH
    6. NM
    7. AF
    8. WYO
    9. TCU

    If (again that's a big IF) things hold out the way they currently are, we would be facing NM in the first round. If we win that, we'd be facing BYU, and if we won that, we'd be facing SDSU. That's quite a journey in a three day tournament stretch.

    If we won out, I feel like it could do wonders to our RPI right before selection Sunday, but realistically speaking, to me, those 3 teams seem to be the toughest in the conference when they are at their best, no disrespect to a good CSU team.

  16. Great all around team effort last night. I was getting frustrated with all the foul calls so quickly, and the Lobos starting a fierce comeback. When the game went into overtime, I was definitely skeptical because we were running out of manpower. However, our guys pulled through and showed some poise and maturity in coming up with a huge win at the pit.

    @MTDice, you gotta remember though, we have home court advantage. Get your tickets quickly fellas, it's gonna be a full house.

  17. The officiating was certainly lousy after the Alford T, but the Rebs didn't help themselves any with some really poor offense pay during a good portion of the second half. There was some terrible shot selection/decision making at times in the second half.

    To me the two biggest plays were the missed foul shot near the end of regulation by Gary leaving the door open for a two to tie as opposed to a three, and QT's great hustle play in OT preventing Williams from converting in transition. That was a four point swing at a critical junction of the game.

    After Tre' began to flounder after a great first half/early second half Thomas stepped up at the opportune time. Hopefully it is a harbinger for things to come for him, but we have seen a couple of glimpses before only to see him go into hibernation. The consistency has to be there.

    I agree with you MTDice, if things pan out that way UNLV would draw the toughest first round match-up. Those were two very tough games which could have went either way.

  18. Q looked tremendous out there. I've been waiting for a decent big man since Lou Amundson and I think Thomas can fill that void. He has all the physical tools to be dominant, too bad he's been limited by Kruger's seemingly random substitution patterns.

  19. Mr. Farwig, QT was limited early in the season and conference play by foul trouble, a problem of his own creation. He didn't foul as much during the anaheim tournament, hence, he received a good amount of minutes. If you didn't know, Kruger plays all the big's early so they get a chance to get in at game speed, then depending on who is playing the best the minutes are then divided up.

  20. Our bigs our doing significantly better with fouls, especially Q. He moving his feet more on defense get good position, and it allows him more opportunity to block shots. The fact it took until OT to get his 4th foul in a chippy game is definitely stating something.
    With fouling being less of an issue, Jasper becoming less effective, and with 3 pretty good passing big men, I would love to see 2 at the same time more often. Maybe hold off until the late 1st half, maybe second half because of foul trouble, but it would be nice to see 5-8 minutes of gametime just like last night.

  21. Stanback's foul trouble probably had something to do with the two big setup. Chace does pull down a fair amount of rebounds.

  22. Great game guys! Wow , Q finally brought it in a big Beasty way. With almost his first season in the books he will be much more consistent next year . Can't wait. Was that technical on NM for crossing the coaches line?

  23. I heard Coach Kruger on his radio show last night address whether he would play 2 big men at the same time some more this year. As toonkee stated above, a big part of the reason was Stanback's foul trouble. Kruger's concern is matching up on the defensive end, where we could get stuck with somebody like Brice Massamba trying to guard a quick guard. I think that most of the comments on here talking about playing two bigs are only considering the offensive side of the ball and rebounding, and not considering the possible defensive liability it could create. I also think that most of the people who think that Derrick Jasper is pretty much useless at this point don't consider his defense and other intangibles that he brings. I agree that Jasper shouldn't play a ton of minutes any more, but to say he's not contributing at all is just not accurate. I think all the "experts" on this website who think if they were coach that the Rebels would be 28-0 right now many times don't consider important things such as matchups and defense. While I believe it's absolutely within your right to question Lon Kruger on his decisions from time to time, I also think that he knows a lot more about coaching a college basketball team than any of us do, no matter how much basketball we watch on TV. Again, a friendly discussion about the possiblity of playing two bigs at the same time is fine, but I get tired of the negativity and constant questioning of a coach who consistently gets his team to the NCAA Tournament and who I think will only lead the Rebels to better things in the future.

  24. Convenient that you wait until UNLV gets their stuff together and wins back to back tough road games to create your account and come on here to lecture us all about how we're all peons and you're the "real" expert. I think we all know Lon Kruger knows a lot more about college basketball than we do. Where were you when the team looked like garbage and was on the brink of a total collapse? What a joke!

  25. You are not allowed to have an opinion, no matter how valid, unless you have been posting to the LVSUN message board all season.

    Rebels have 2 bad losses: CSU and UCSB at home and CSU were without their Tre.

    Every team has ups and downs during a season. The joke is the over reaction that most fans have to the downs as well as the ups.

    They have struggled to shoot the ball but "garbage" and "collapse" in my opinion are over reactions.

    Loosing your 2 best shooters (who are sr's), Your 1st team mtn west star is injured, PG played great until he badly sprains his wrist, Jasper is playing on one leg and your two most talented big men are coming off redshirts. Not excuses, just facts for a tourney bound 21-7 team.

    Kruger is not without question but no coach is. Bottom line is when the season is done it looks like 4 tournaments in 5 years and we are only loosing Jasper and Tre so the future looks bright. The team is balanced well with FR-SR's.

    Now I am born and raised in Vegas, played basketball all my life, graduated from UNLV, have posted off and on here for a long time, and a season ticket holder for several years. Am I allowed to post my opinion?

  26. Everyone, as you said, is definitely entitled to their own opinion. I agree with a lot of what you said in your posts, but the entire vibe of your post was coming on here after the team looked great in consecutive games for the first time in more than a month. The impression that I got, and maybe is just me, is that the timing of your emergence on the board was peculiar. If this happens to be merely a coincidence, then that's my bad,

    I tend to agree that a lot of people overreact and sort of went nuts on Kruger. My biggest gripes were the end of the SDSU game where we inexpicably started jacking up 3's after we fought back by not doing that; the lack of an effective offense if we aren't making jump shots; and yes, not playing two bigs. SDSU game is over and the offense is looking a lot more fluid, which I think has lead to our shooters being looser and having more confidence. As far a two bigs go, a lot of us focus on the offensive side of the ball, but that is because that is where we have been struggling. On defense, even with one big in the game, our switching man defense always leaves the possibility that a big could get left on a guard. They usually switch back quickly, but I've seen it a number of times. I think a lot of us would just like to see a different look, especially in those games where the offense stagnates.
    Perhaps potential collapse isn't the best way to describe where we were, but prior to this two game stretch, it was not looking great and I don't think anyone would have come on here and said "We are going to win @CSU and @UNM. The whole no UNLV gear at practice and the ensuing heated argument that took place between players and the coaches following that practice seems to have flipped a switch with the players, and that's all that is important now.
    So, let me apologize for calling you out then. Welcome to the board and its great to have another Vegas native on here.