Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Published Saturday, Jan. 22, 2011 | 12:30 p.m.
Updated Saturday, Jan. 22, 2011 | 3:08 p.m.
Final, UNLV wins 63-62
At the end of a crazy closing stretch to the game, New Mexico's Kendall Williams missed a game-tying free throw with one second left on the clock and UNLV's season was maybe saved with a 63-62 win.
The Lobos had four turnovers on four possessions to close the game, but UNLV gave it away on an inbounds pass with two seconds left. Williams hit the front end and missed the back.
New Mexico drops to 1-4 in Mountain West play, while UNLV lives to see another day of relevancy at 3-3.
Chace Stanback led all scorers with 20 points to go with his nine rebounds, while Oscar Bellfield scored 13. New Mexico had five players in double figures, led by Dairese Gary, who scored 15 points while staving off a nagging injury the whole game.
Before getting a week off, UNLV has a crucial road trip to face MWC cellar-dweller Wyoming on Tuesday night.
For full postgame coverage, stay tuned to lasvegassun.com/rebels.
3:37, Second Half, UNLV leads 56-52
Carlos Lopez put away a monster and-one layup over UNM's Drew Gordon to make it look like UNLV was about to bury a dagger at the end of a bit second half run.
But he missed a layup and a dunk on the next two possessions, and the Rebels are still trying to hold off the Lobos in the closing minutes, leading 56-52.
New Mexico is staying close in large part thanks to senior guard Dairese Gary, who is fighting through what looks like a nagging groin or back injury. He has scored two huge and-one buckets in transition to help the Lobos stay within range.
In a must-win game for both sides, home court doesn't appear to matter right now, as you can feel the tension in the air.
11:10, Second Half, New Mexico leads 44-42
It took UNLV six minutes to get its first field goal of the second half after leading by four at the break, but the Rebels didn't suffer much and only trail New Mexico by two, 44-42.
Anthony Marshall broke the drought with a jumper from the wing, but hit a few key free throws early to keep the drought from having too much of an effect.
The Rebels' best plan moving forward in the second half might be to double-up on New Mexico senior guard Dairese Gary, who is visibly hurting and limping to start the second half. He winced in pain for much of the first half after landing hard on his back early. He was the last Lobo out of the locker room, and it's assumed he required plenty of treatment at the break.
Halftime, UNLV leads 34-30
If you can call something from back in November 'vintage,' then consider that first half performance vintage UNLV.
The Rebels defended strong for 20 minutes, while on the other end they were 14-of-23 from the floor and 5-of-10 from deep, leading New Mexico 34-30 at the break.
Chace Stanback (6-of-9) and Oscar Bellfield (4-of-6) did most of the damage, combining for 26 points. The Rebels turned it over five times in the first eight minutes, but only three in the final 12.
For New Mexico, Drew Gordon leads the way with eight points, coming off of four dunks. he has a game-high six rebounds so far, but hasn't been able to create much underneath thanks to a strong combined defensive effort from the Rebels' big men.
An interesting theme to watch in the second half will be how UNLV handles its two-guard rotation. Anthony Marshall only played four minutes, picking up two quick fouls. Tre'Von Willis played 10 in his first action in three games, but looks very rusty. Outside of an open breakaway layup, he's 0-for-2 from the floor with three turnovers as his only other stat. He looks rusty, and you wonder how much Lon Kruger will want to lean on him after the break.
3:26, First Half, UNLV leads 30-23
Someone finally caught fire alongside Chace Stanback, and it's Oscar Bellfield, who is bringing an end it appears to one of his worst offensive stretches in three years at UNLV.
After missing his first two shots of the game, Bellfield has hit his last four, including a pair of 3-pointers, to push UNLV ahead of New Mexico, 30-23, late in the first half.
The spark for the Rebels so far today on the defensive end has been Carlos Lopez.
An unlikely source, but he has three steals, including an spectacular stuff of Drew Gordon, followed by simply yanking the ball away from the Lobos' star junior forward.
Stanback has stayed hot and leads all scorers with 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting.
11:39, First Half, New Mexico leads 15-12
UNLV started hot on the offensive end, with Chace Stanback hitting two early threes and his first three overall shots, giving UNLV a 10-4 lead out of the gates.
However, the rest of the Rebels have stayed fairly silent, and UNLV trails UNM at the second TV break, 15-12.
Tre'Von Willis is playing for the first time in three games today, coming off of the bench, but looks rusty, turning it over twice and missing his first two shots.
The Rebels have turned the ball over five times, but on the other end are defending much harder than they did the other night in an ugly loss to Colorado State.
It's apparent early that Drew Gordon could give the Rebels some fits the rest of the way. He has six points, all coming on three dunks. Two were executed in traffic underneath with him simply using his size and strength well.
UNLV is 5-of-8 early from the floor, but not getting clean looks very easily. Expect this game to stay relatively low-scoring.
Last season, when UNLV and New Mexico met at the Mack in early February, it was the biggest regular season meeting the Mountain West had.
Both were in the Top 25 and in contention for the league's regular season title.
A year later, both are in a tougher place and three games out of first place early on in MWC play. Beyond that, both are struggling to stay relevant and avoid life on the NCAA tournament bubble for the next two months.
UNLV (14-5 overall, 2-3 MWC) and New Mexico (13-6, 1-3) will tip at 1 p.m. in front of an expected strong crowd at the Mack.
The loser will need to rip off a monster win streak of some kind to regain solid at-large tourney status, while the winner gets a huge dose of new life.
Here are three key things to watch for today as the Rebels and Lobos lock up:
1) 30 minutes before tip-off, all of the Rebels were on the floor warming up … except for injured guard Tre'Von Willis, whose status is still unknown for today. It's starting to look more and more, though, like UNLV will be without him. With that said, Justin Hawkins needs to have an offensive effort against New Mexico like the one he had against Air Force last Saturday, where he hit a pair of clutch 3-pointers on top of his standard disruptive defense.
2) New Mexico's Dairese Gary, who was a first team All-MWC performer last season, is averaging 2.7 turnovers per game, which is a career worst. He's had some great games and some bad games in that category. UNLV hasn't forced turnovers like it was earlier in the season quite as often in the last two games. If Gary's going to have one of those off days, the Rebels will have to dial up the pressure on him.
3) UNM junior forward Drew Gordon, who posted 23 points and 14 rebounds a week ago in a loss to San Diego State, Lon Kruger compared physically to the members of SDSU's stellar front line. UNLV's best answer for him, physically, is Quintrell Thomas, who had his best game in weeks on Wednesday night off of the bench against Colorado State. He appears to have moved back up in the rotation to No. 2 among the big men ahead of Carlos Lopez. He needs to build on that.
That's it for me until tip-off. My prediction today? Well, I'm giving UNLV the slightest of edges because of the home court, so I'll take them 65-61. My Pick to Click today is Oscar Bellfield. He's been quiet for a while, but thrives traditionally in big conference games like this.
To join the in-game conversation below, add the #unlvmbb tag to your UNLV-UNM tweets, or give me a follow at twitter.com/ryanmgreene.