Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012 | 7:15 p.m.
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Las Vegas Sun reporters Taylor Bern and Ray Brewer talk about the UNLV basketball team's last-second victory against San Diego State. A sold-out crowd created a great atmosphere in one of the Rebels' most significant wins of the season.
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Without a game all week, the hype and anticipation for Saturday afternoon’s game at the Thomas & Mack reached levels arguably not seen since the early '90s.
And somehow, the game delivered on those expectations.
After nearly blowing a double-digit lead in the second half, UNLV junior guard Justin Hawkins made a steal in the final seconds that clinched the 14th-ranked Rebels’ 65-63 victory against No. 13 San Diego State. It snapped the Aztecs’ six-game winning streak in the series and gave UNLV just its second victory in the last 11 meetings.
Nearly all of those games, including UNLV’s 69-67 loss in San Diego earlier this season, have gone down to the wire, just like Saturday.
“Every game has been just like this, where they could have gone either way, and it’s worked out for San Diego State,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “Today was our day.”
Mike Moser led the team with 19 points, Oscar Bellfield had 15 points and six assists and Brice Massamba poured in 12 points, but the biggest plays came from other players who made up for deficiencies elsewhere in their performance.
It started with junior guard Anthony Marshall.
With just less than 1:30 to play, San Diego State’s Chase Tapley hit a 3-pointer that gave the Aztecs their first lead since early in the first half. They had trailed by as much as 13 points in the second half, but UNLV could never pull too far away.
On the Rebels’ next possession, Marshall missed a 3-pointer, part of an ugly stretch that saw UNLV shoot 0-for-6 behind the three-point line in the final 11 minutes.
Marshall then made up for it by sprinting out with the ball after Moser made a steal and finishing at the rim with a layup.
Marshall scored just five points on 2-of-9 shooting, but he dished out eight assists and that shot put UNLV ahead 64-63 with 37.6 seconds remaining.
Then it was Chace Stanback's turn.
With just a two-second difference between the game and shot clocks, San Diego State could have held on for a final shot. Instead, the Aztecs’ Jamaal Franklin attacked the rim and Stanback knocked the ball out of bounds. On the ensuing play, the Aztecs went to Franklin again and once more Stanback reached in and knocked the ball away, this time giving possession to the Rebels.
Stanback scored just five points on 2-for-8 shooting, but those defensive stops were crucial.
“We did a really good job of staying together,” Bellfield said. “Everybody was dialed in through the end.”
Then it was Hawkins’ turn.
An Aztec foul put Stanback on the free-throw line for a one-and-one, up 64-63 with 13.7 seconds left. He missed off the back iron and as the ball sailed to the right side of the lane, the only player in the air to grab it was Hawkins.
“Franklin didn’t do a good job boxing me out and I just grabbed the ball and held on to it,” Hawkins said.
The Aztecs fouled him, and with 10.4 seconds left, it was now Hawkins with a one-and-one at the free-throw line. He hit the first, but with a chance to put UNLV ahead by three he couldn’t make the second.
So, he made up for it.
“I was kind of upset that I missed the second free throw, but I knew that I couldn’t give up on the play because there was seven seconds left,” Hawkins said. “When (Xavier Thames) got the ball I just knew that I had to either get a stop or make sure that he didn’t have a good shot.”
As Thames attempted to bring the ball up the court, Hawkins hounded him and forced him to change directions several times.
“I think that if I would have got back he would have had enough time to set-up, either get a ball screen or just penetrate and kick to somebody, so I was trying to waste time turning him back and forth,” Hawkins said. “When he went into that spin move, natural reaction just go for the ball.”
That set off the celebration at the sold-out Mack.
It was everything they had hoped for.