The UNLV Runnin' Rebels used an amazing all-around performance and a flawless second half to upset the nation's top ranked team in the Las Vegas Invitational championship game. UNLV had four players in double figures, led by Chace Stanback's career high of 28 points. Stanback also had 10 rebounds for a double-double and Mike Moser had one of his own with 16 points and 18 rebounds. Oscar Bellfield had 16 points and 9 assists and Anthony Marshall added 13 points of his own.
The story of the game, though, was that UNLV restricted North Carolina's top players quite well. Harrison Barnes only had 2 points in the first half, although did show up in the second half, ending up with 15 points. Tyler Zeller, who was thought to have a major size advantage in the post, only had 5 points and got into foul trouble early in the game. What really surprised me though wasn't the fact that UNLV was able to restrict UNC's top players, but that Roy Williams didn't make some adjustments that would have certainly helped on the defensive end.UNLV head coach Dave Rice's philosophy is to keep the game moving quickly, pushing the ball and scoring in transition. There were definitely some of those moments in this game, but the bulk of UNLV's points came out of the half-court offense, which wasn't too hard to defend. UNLV continued to either run a pick-and-roll from the left side of the court or drive the ball into the teeth of the defense and kick it out for an open three.
The easiest way to stop both of those plays is to run a 2-3 zone, like USC did on Friday night. Strangely enough, Roy Williams continued to have the Tarheels play in a man-to-man defense and allowed for the Runnin' Rebels to knock down shot after shot. That was definitely a big mental lapse on the part of Roy Williams.
As for the game itself, UNLV basically hung around with North Carolina in the first half. The lead flip-flopped back and forth, never getting too big for either side to overcome. When halftime came around, UNLV found themselves only down four points and in range of possibly knocking off the top team in the nation. Whatever Coach Rice said at halftime definitely worked.
The Runnin' Rebels started the second half on a 14-0 run and never looked back. North Carolina brought the lead down to five points at one point and then six points at another, but UNLV retaliated with a run of their own both times. The key to those retaliating runs was the three point shooting from UNLV. By my estimation, the Runnin' Rebels hit about 60% of their three point shots in the second half on drive and kick scenarios.
For UNLV, this win not only will give them confidence this season and give them a very nice looking win come March, but it also will make waves on the recruiting grounds. UNLV is trying to land Shabazz Muhammad of bishop Gorman, who is the #1 recruit in the nation. Muhammad has listed UNLV in the running for a while now, but a win like this certainly has to help the Runnin' Rebels' chances of moving up that list.
Now the question for UNLV becomes whether or not this success can be sustained. UNLV plays a revenge game from last year on the road against UC-Santa Barbara on Wednesday (The Gauchos upset UNLV at home last season) then travels to Wichita State to take on a team that went to the NIT championship game last season before traveling out to Madison, WI to take on the Badgers. It definitely won't be easy, but if the Runnin' Rebels play anywhere near as well as they played on Saturday night, it definitely isn't out of the question.