Rebels Outlast Broncos, 66-63
Dec. 5, 2009
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -As hard as UNLV has had to work for its last three wins, the Runnin' Rebels aren't allowing themselves to get overly excited about their unbeaten start.
They needed a big second half to get by Santa Clara.
Tre'Von Willis hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 4:04 remaining and scored all of his 14 points after halftime, and No. 24 UNLV kept its undefeated streak going with a hard-fought 66-63 victory over the Broncos on Saturday night.
Oscar Bellfield added 15 points and six rebounds as the Runnin' Rebels moved to 7-0 for the first time since the then-defending national champions started 34-0 in 1990-91, a season in which their lone loss came to Duke in the Final Four.
"We try not to think about it," forward Matt Shaw said. "The last two games haven't been easy wins. We don't think we're doing anything special even though we're undefeated."
Santa Clara's Raymond Cowels missed a long 3-pointer from the top of the arc as time expired. The Broncos (4-4) also had a chance with 32.3 seconds to play, but guard Robert Smith held the ball before driving in himself and missing a tough jumper under pressure in the paint.
Marc Trasolini scored 22 points to lead Santa Clara, making a pair of free throws with 2:02 to play and two more with 52.3 seconds remaining. He also was whistled for a costly technical early in the second half for hanging on the rim after a dunk and that's when the Runnin' Rebels gained some momentum.
UNLV rallied from 10 points down early in the second half and overcame 26 fouls to beat Santa Clara for the fifth straight time and sixth in seven. Only nine turnovers to go with 12 steals and 13 assists helped the cause on a night UNLV was outrebounded 41-28.
It's been an impressive week for the Runnin' Rebels after they survived for a 74-72 double-overtime win at Arizona on Wednesday night. They beat then-No. 16 Louisville 76-71 last Saturday to earn a spot in the Top-25.
"They're excited about what's happening," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "Despite what happened in the first half, they've done a good job keeping it in perspective. We have a lot of work to do."
Kruger waved before tipoff to the large contingent of UNLV fans at the Leavey Center, where a handful of scouts were on hand to see the Rebels.
Next up for the Rebels: final exams and a tough week of practice.
The Broncos played without sophomore star and leading scorer Kevin Foster because of a broken bone in his right foot that will require surgery soon. He was on crutches and in a cast, and coach Kerry Keating said Foster could miss the rest of the season. Foster, averaging 19.8 points per game, was hurt late in a 79-68 win at previously unbeaten Santa Barbara on Tuesday. He will likely redshirt.
While Keating called Trasolini's technical for hanging on the rim an "immature play" to learn from, he was happy to see his young team hang tough until the final buzzer.
"We took them to the wall," Keating said. "Our energy and effort were good."
UNLV is showing few effects of losing seven letterwinners and three starters from last season's team that went to the NIT. The Runnin' Rebels, picked to finish third in the Mountain West Conference, have held every opponent to 40-percent shooting or below.
The Broncos, rebuilding without departed star bigman John Bryant, pounded the boards early to create extra opportunities and shot 19 free throws in the opening 20 minutes. UNLV was whistled for 15 fouls - five players had two and Willis was one of them - to just six for Santa Clara.
"We let one get away," said Smith, who added 12 points. "It's tough without Kevin right now."
Trasolini scored eight of his points in an 11-4 run over the final 4:55 of the first half, including a three-point play off a steal with 1.5 seconds to go that put Santa Clara ahead 39-31 at the break.
UNLV is ranked in December for the first time since the 1992-93 season, when J.R. Rider starred for the school.
The teams met for the second straight season after the Rebels won 78-66 last year on their home court. Yet this marked just the third matchup since 1975.