Two Sweet...To Dance!
March 15, 2008
LAS VEGAS (AP) - The sequel was much better than the original for the UNLV Runnin' Rebels.
UNLV upset top-seeded and 24th-ranked BYU in the Mountain West Conference championship for the second straight season, routing the Cougars 76-61 Saturday night behind a flurry of great performances led by Wink Adams.
The starring attraction of this show, Adams scored 23 points, including 14 straight over a 3:20 stretch beginning with 6:48 left in the game. Included were a trio of 3-pointers from the left corner that crushed the Cougars' spirit and turned a tight game into a laugher.
"I knew my team needed me," Adams said after leading the Runnin' Rebels' race to their second straight MWC crown and the automatic NCAA bid that goes with it.
Curtis Terry added 20 points, Corey Bailey grabbed a career-best 11 rebounds and Rene Rougeau pulled down 10 boards for the Runnin' Rebels (26-7), who overcame an early double-digit deficit just like they did a year ago in beating the Cougars for the championship at the rockin' Thomas & Mack Center.
It was so similar for the Rebels, right down to the early double-digit deficit to the fast start after halftime and the pull-away at the end.
"I think the feeling I have right now is similar, yeah," BYU coach Dave Rose said.
In last year's championship here, the Cougars jumped out to a 37-26 halftime lead only to lose 78-70.
"Basically, it was just like last year all over again," Rougeau said.
This time, the Cougars were up 35-27 with a minute to go in the first half, but the Runnin' Rebels didn't wait for the break to regroup. Joe Darger sank a 3-pointer while he was fouled by Cummard and the four-point play made it 35-31.
Mareceo Rutledge made an equally difficult shot with a putback at the buzzer to cut the Cougars' lead to 37-33 and give the Rebels the emotional edge heading into the locker room.
"When we went in at halftime, we were down, we just said to ourselves, 'This happened last year, how we were down big,"' Rougeau said. "But to only be down by four, that was kind of a relief, you know, because BYU, they're real dangerous when they have a big lead. They play with a lot of confidence.
"We definitely didn't get our heads down. If anything, we came out with a lot of motivation and hunger and fire those first few minutes."
The Runnin' Rebels opened the second half with a 12-1 run to take a 45-38 lead. Darger sank a 3-pointer from the left corner and another from the right corner during the run that got the red-clad UNLV crowd going crazy.
The Runnin' Rebels improved to 17-5 in the tournament that returned to The Strip last year after a three-year run in Denver.
"Well, it definitely helps to be able to have the tournament in Vegas," Terry said. "But it was pretty loud out there both ways. Early on when BYU went on their run, it seemed like, if not half the crowd, almost all of it was for BYU. When we made our run late in the first half and the second half, it seemed the other way."
Rougeau helped neutralize BYU's big man, Trent Plaisted, by grabbing a half dozen rebounds off the offensive glass.
Jimmer Fredette scored 17 points for BYU (27-7), but the Cougars' big stars, co-conference Player of the Year Lee Cummard and the 7-footer Plaisted, never found an offensive rhythm and kept getting boxed out. Cummard scored 11 points and Plaisted had nine points and nine rebounds.
"They would throw it up and go get it," Cummard said. "We had no answer for it. Didn't play with enough energy. Congrats to them."
The Cougars were clinging to hope if not many rebounds when Adams sank two free throws with 6:48 left to stretch UNLV's lead to 57-50, igniting his 14-point run that helped him clinch tournament MVP honors.
By the time his long-range onslaught was over, the Cougars were finished, trailing 67-58 with 3 1/2 minutes left. Adams wasn't done, though. He added a finger-roll off a glide to the basket that might have been his prettiest play of the night.
"There were a couple maybe defensive mistakes during that string, but for the most part he was just making big plays," Rose said.
The Cougars insisted they'll forget this performance quickly and be ready for their second straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
"We know we're a good team," Cummard said. "We're actually a really good team."