The USC Trojans put on a defensive clinic and gave UNLV a taste of its own medicine in winning the inaugural Diamond Head Classic. UNLV battled back late in the second half, but could not overcome what grew to a 19 point lead. The USC squad that has been together since upsetting Tennessee last week is drastically different than the one that started 2-4. The addition last week of senior transfer Mike Gerrity makes this a team to be reckoned with heading into Pac-10 play. UNLV appeared to sleep-walk through much of the early going, and never really recovered.
The Rebels will be heading into conference play after the New Year. For the rest of the Mountain West, USC and Kansas State have provided the formula for beating the Rebels. If you get physical with them, they can easily get knocked out of their rhythm. Given that this is a team that is looking to hit the big 3s, if their timing is off, they're in big trouble. USC did just that today and provided the pesky defense that UNLV had ridden to wins over SMU and Hawaii.
The only player that stepped up for UNLV tonight was sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield. Bellfield finished with 17 points and was the only Rebel who really wanted to swing back at the Trojans. The trio of transfers (Jasper, Stanback, Willis) finished with a combined line of 12 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Very solid line for one player, but rather laughable for the three guys who should be guiding this team.
Although this is a better USC team than people probably thought a couple weeks ago (picked 9th in the Pac-10), that's still no excuse for the Rebels. If they want to get into the tournament, let alone make any noise in March, they're going to have to be able to deal with physical basketball teams. At this point in time they can't really do that, and Lon Kruger and his coaching staff need to figure out how to rectify the situation.
Up Next: UNLV is off until January 6 when they open conference play at BYU. BYU plays extremely well at home, so UNLV will have to bring their A-game to spring what would be an upset in conference play. The Rebels will find out where they are in the conference fairly quickly as they get to follow that up with games against New Mexico at the Pit and then at home against San Diego State (who beat UNLV 3 times last year). While it will be a tough start, it's actually kind of nice to get those out of the way early. If they can take 2 of those 3 games I would be quite happy.