Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011 | 12:27 a.m.
- BOX SCORE: UNLV 90, North Carolina 80
- Trying to figure out where the UNLV win against North Carolina ranks all-time (11-27-2011)
- Still time to get tickets for UNLV’s matchup against top-rated Tar Heels (11-26-2011)
- Bring on the Tar Heels: Rebels top USC to set up championship game showdown with North Carolina (11-25-2011)
- Big weekend for Rebels could include facing top-ranked North Carolina (11-25-2011)
- 2011-12 UNLV Men's Basketball Schedule
- All UNLV Men's Basketball Coverage
Some 15 minutes after supporters of the UNLV basketball team stormed the court at the Orleans Arena to celebrate the Rebels’ upset victory against top-ranked North Carolina, coach Dave Rice finally worked his way past a long line of well wishers to the team’s locker room.
As he approached, he could hear joyful players continuing the celebration, cherishing a 90-80 victory against the No. 1 Tar Heels in the Las Vegas Invitational finals on ESPN2 that will surely propel the Rebels from being unranked to the middle of the top-25 rankings.
Rice also had a grin from ear to ear, knowing the benefits of beating a powerhouse team in building his young program. But, as the coach was quick to tell his players, it was just one game.
Sure, it was the signature victory they were looking for, and the ultimate reward for the hard work they’ve put in since Rice was hired in April. At the end of the day, however, it was simply the Rebels’ seventh consecutive win to open the season.
After all, it is still November and there is still plenty of basketball left.
“We don’t want one game to define our program,” Rice said. “It’s a huge win for us, but what we want to be judged on his our consistency over the non-conference season, conference season and over the course of years. That is what consistency is all about.
“But to do that, we have to get some of these huge wins, and this was a huge win for our program,” the coach continued.
UNLV opened the second half with 14 unanswered points to erase a four-point halftime deficit and take the lead for good. The Rebels seemed to gain more confidence as the minutes ticked off the clock, keeping the lead above six points for the final 15 minutes and creating an energetic buzz in the arena where you could sense something big was going to happen.
And it did.
On message boards and through social media, some fans are already ranking the win as one of UNLV’s top five of all-time. The Rebels hadn’t played a top-ranked opponent since beating Arizona by one point in the 1989 Sweet 16.
“North Carolina has a storied program. They have great players. They have a hall of fame coach,” Rice said. “We knew they would answer all of our runs with runs of their own. Yet every timeout, we came together and our seniors said, ‘Hey, let’s get this thing done.’”
Mike Moser, who is second nationally in rebounding average, continued his tremendous start to the season with 16 points, 18 rebounds and six assists. He drained a pair of second half 3-pointers, helping the Rebels connect on 48 percent of their field goal attempts in the half — a mark that included seven 3-pointers.
“We did better than we thought we would do this game,” Moser said. “We knew we would play them tough and keep it close, but we really handled them.”
There were roughly 30 NBA scouts in attendance to evaluate North Carolina’s roster of All-America players. But for the most part, UNLV held the Tar Heels' big guns in check. Harrison Barnes had a team-high 15 points, but Tyler Zeller made just one shot in finishing with five points, and John Henson went 4-for-12 to score 11 points.
“When you play North Carolina, when one guy gets in foul trouble, another McDonald’s All-American comes in (off the bench),” Rice said.
UNLV senior Chace Stanback, one game after being limited to four points against USC, had arguably his best game as a Rebel with a game-high 28 points and 10 rebounds in 33 minutes. He was unstoppable in the second half and not shy to take the important shot.
With less than two minutes remaining and UNLV clinging to an eight-point lead, Stanback received the ball in transition and pulled up for a mid-range jump shot. The logical play in that situation would be to run some time off the clock, but Stanback calmly sank the shot to extend the lead.
Rice would have it no other way. For his up-tempo offense to work, there can’t be any hesitation in his players — regardless of the situation.
“Our guys know that when they are open, they need to shoot the ball, whether it is the first minute of the game or the last minute of the game,” Rice said. “I don’t want guys looking over wondering, ‘Does coach want me to shoot this ball or not.’”
Stanback’s clutch play led to a victory that will surely be a turning point in the Rebels' season. But like Rice, he knows the season can’t be defined by a win in November.
“It is a great thrill. But we know it doesn’t stop here,” Stanback said. “We have to keep working and get better everyday.”
Senior Oscar Bellfield had another solid game for UNLV, opening with a pair of 3-pointers in the initial five minutes to give UNLV an early lead, and finishing with 16 points and nine assists. Anthony Marshall finished with 13 points and a monster slam dunk in the first half that showed the Rebels weren’t going to back down.