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UNLV 77 - Hawaii 53: Rebels cruise to Diamond Head Classic final

A day after stumbling briefly late, the UNLV Runnin Rebels kept their foot on the gas pedal in pounding the Hawaii Warriors 67-53.  UNLV once again forced a huge number of turnovers and turned those into plenty of easy baskets throughout the game.  The key to this win was UNLV out-hustling Hawaii and never letting the Warriors get into a game in which they stumbled early.  Throw in a solid performance on the glass and the Rebels cruised with another wire-to-wire performance.

UNLV has had a different player step up into a key role in just about every game.  Last night, freshman Anthony Marshall was key to the big first half lead.  Tonight, Kentucky transfer guard Derrick Jasper was easily the star of the game.  Jasper finished with 14 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and a block for good measure.  Jasper was all over the court leading an impressive defensive effort by the Rebels.  Lon Kruger prides himself on quality defense from his teams and this team is on its way to becoming one of his best UNLV teams yet.

Hawaii certainly didn't do themselves any favors as it took them just over 6 minutes to score their first points of the game.  Both teams struggled to hit baskets early on, but as soon as Hawaii got their first points, UNLV was suddenly able to turn it on.  The Rebels used a 19-5 run to give them breathing room and Hawaii would never narrow the gap from that.

One of the most important developments in the game was the fact that UNLV did not let up in the second half.  While they didn't widen their lead all that much, they never let it fall under 17 points.  The Rebels have had a bad habit of slumping at a different point in a given game.  At the beginning of the season it was the start of games against inferior opponents.  Lately it's been letting a team back into a game rather than going for the kill.  While UNLV didn't run up the score any further tonight, they still handled their business in the second half with excellent focus.

Up Next: UNLV faces the University of Southern California on Christmas Day in the championship game of this inaugural tournament.  USC upset the Gaels of St. Mary's to continue a resurgence that included a 22-point blowout of the #8 Tennessee Volunteers last week.  St. Mary's had the better record, but if UNLV can beat the Trojans, it could prove to be a better win come the end of the year.  USC's RPI is not spectacular (#115), but given the Pac-10 schedule versus the WCC schedule, if USC can continue their strong performance of late, their RPI would be more likely to go up.  It's obviously too early to be talking NCAA tournament, but every non-conference win is important.

UNLV is like to be favored by 3 or 4 points against the Trojans, and likely won't be blowing them out the building as they've done to SMU and Hawaii.  USC was able to add senior transfer guard Mike Gerrity (eligible after transfer) and sophomore forward Leonard, making them a much different team from the one that struggled early in the season.