Big performances from Tre'Von Willis and Quintrell Thomas lift Rebels to victory in overtime over New Mexico.
Tre'Von Willis had 25 points on 9-13 shooting and Quintrell Thomas had 19 points and 13 rebounds for yet another double-double on the season. Along with Oscar Bellfield, who added 15 points, the trio combined for 59 of UNLV's 77 points.
Like UNLV's stat combo of Willis and Thomas, the Lobos had their own. Four players scored in double figures for the Lobos, but Dariese Gary was the star, getting 26 points on 10-15 shooting. Drew Gordon added 15 points and 14 rebounds in another monster performance.
Both teams shot very well in the first 10 minutes of the game, as was evidenced by the score at the 10 minute mark - 22-21. The Runnin' Rebels extended their lead to a 35-29 mark by halftime and came out of the tunnel for the second half firing.
At the start of the second half, UNLV did just the opposite of what many of us expected - they slowed the game down, and strangely enough, it worked. With Tre'Von Willis and Oscar Bellfield nailing outside shots and Quintrell Thomas playing well in the post, the half-court offense actually clicked. The Rebels also mixed up their defense every couple of plays. On some possessions, they would play a pressure man-to-man defense, and on others, they would fall back into a zone in order to prevent penetration.
When UNLV's run hit its climax at 51-36 with a little over 14 minutes remaning in the second half, Steve Alford called timeout, he had figured out what the Rebels were doing and how they were going to beat it. He told his team to speed the game up. No matter what happened on the defensive end of the floor, they were to sprint down to the other end of the court and get into the lane.
The ploy worked and the Lobos climbed back into the game. New Mexico couldn't regain the lead until 1:00 remaining when Drew Gordon gave New Mexico a 66-65 lead. Oscar Bellfield missed a three point shot on the other end for the Runnin' Rebels and Dariese Gary was sent to the line with 27 seconds left.
Gary stepped to the line, but the first shot in the air, and came up short. Gary buried the second, but the damage had been done. The Runnin' Rebels now only needed a lay-up instead of a three point shot. Oscar Bellfield was given an open lane to the basket and he took it. Bellfield made the lay-up to tie the game with 16 seconds remaining, New Mexico took their final timeout with 12 seconds left on the clock.
The play Alford drew up turned out to be an isolation for Dariese Gary, which had been unstoppable all game long. Unfortunately, Gary's floater in the lane as time expired rimmed out and the game went to overtime.
In overtime, UNLV was almost unstoppable on the offensive end for the first 4 minutes, building a 76-71 lead. But in the final minute New Mexico battled back to within 2 points with 17 seconds left. Oscar Bellfield went to the line and hit one of two to make the score 77-74. Dariese Gary drove down the lane and kicked the ball out to a wide open Phillip McDonald, but Mcdonald missed the shot. McDonald put up one more heave after retrieving his own rebound, but that didn't fall either and the Rebels escaped New Mexico once again because of a missed shot at the end of the game.
New Mexico is playing like the team we expected them to be, the problem is that in big games the Lobos will end up on the wrong side of a close game. That, combined with bad losses to Utah and Wyoming has really hurt New Mexico this season. This loss just cements the Lobos further in the status of NIT, unless they are able to win the MWC Tournament.
UNLV adds a sweep of New Mexico to their resume and makes their mark against the upper teams in the MWC look at least respectable at 3-5. More importantly, Quintrell Thomas has shown to be a force in the post and Tre'Von Willis is finally back at the form he was last season.
One last disturbing thing for the Rebels is that Chace Stanback, who averages 13 points a game, fouled out with 10:00 remaining and only 2 points. He has totally dropped off the map after starting the season so well. Speaking of dropping off the map, Derrick Jasper has barely been mentioned with this year's team. He's averaging 5 points a game and 4 rebounds per game and then nothing else. Jasper won't even show up during games other than another body on the floor for the Rebels.
UNLV plays home against Wyoming on Saturday.
New Mexico travels to TCU on Saturday.
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