Nov. 28, 2009
LAS VEGAS (AP) - UNLV nearly let a big lead fritter away against Louisville.
Oscar Bellfield scored 17 points, Tre'Von Willis added 16 and the Runnin' Rebels held on for a 76-71 win over the No. 16 Cardinals on Saturday, a game the Mountain West upstarts led by 19 points in the second half.
The Cardinals (4-1) used a 30-11 run to overcome the 53-34 deficit with 14:05 remaining, tying the score at 64-64 on Rakeem Buckles' basket with 4:24 left. Bellfield answered with six straight points, and the Runnin' Rebels (5-0) managed to hang on in a game they never trailed.
"Oscar was great," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "He kept battling."
Buckles scored eight of his 10 points during Louisville's tying run. He also finished with 11 rebounds, while Edgar Sosa had 18 points and Samardo Samuels 13.
"That was a game that showed a lot about our team," Kruger said. "You see a lot of pressure from (Rick) Pitino teams. ... Our team has been very unselfish. Our depth is huge - it has already paid us dividends."
The Cardinals were coming off a four-game sweep in the Hall of Fame showcase, including a 96-66 rout of Arkansas. But they were unimpressive in a 69-56 win over East Tennessee State and a 90-81 victory over Morgan State, and were stung again by the Runnin' Rebels.
UNLV went into Freedom Hall and won 56-55 last season. Before that, Louisville had won four straight in the series dating to 1993.
"It's not a bad loss," Pitino said. "It's not surprising when you play a road game like this, this early in the season. It's a difficult place to play. We knew it would be a tough game, but we knew it would make us a better team in the end."
Darris Santee added 13 points and a key block in the final minute for UNLV, which led 40-30 at halftime. Derrick Jasper added 12 points and Chace Stanback finished with nine rebounds and two blocked shots.
The Cardinals tied the score at 20-20 on Sosa's lay-up with 9:30 left, but the Rebels shot 56 percent from the field (15 of 27) over the first 20 minutes and led 38-27 following Willis' free throw with 2:24 remaining.
Bellfield scored nine points and Willis had eight during the first half.
"They threw a big run at us. We took the hit, but we got up and fought back," Willis said. "We share the ball - we are an unselfish team. We ground it out at the end of the game. It shows our character, it shows how much fight we have in us."