The UNLV Runnin' Rebels overcame a sluggish first half as Kendall Wallace nailing four three pointers early in the second half to spark the Rebels to a 60-50 win over the Air Force Falcons at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.
The 14,175 fans were very quiet during the first half, as the Falcons did their best Princeton imitation by holding the Rebels to 21 first half points. The Academy connected on three point plays and points off the bench, and led by three points at the end of the first half.
The Rebels two leading scorers, Tre'Von Willis and Chase Stanback, were relatively quiet in the first half. Willis did manage 13 points for the game, far from his 24.5 average in conference play. He was 6-6 at the foul line when it counted down the stretch. Stanback finished with 12 points along with four rebounds (two off the offensive board) as well as a blocked shot.
As it has been in recent games, another Rebel had a standout game. Last night it was Brice Massamba, who scored the Rebels' first six points and wound up with eight total. He also grabbed four boards as the Rebels out rebounded the Falcons 27-19. What's more significant was the Rebels' dominance on the offensive glass: they grabbed seven offensive boards while Air Force only managed one.
The player of the game, though, was sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield. In his 34 minutes of play he scored four points with four rebounds, two off the offensive board and a game high 10 assists. Bellfield definitely took control of the offense in the second half as the Rebels outscored the Falcons by 13 points.
Air Force, still win-less in conference play, put up a good battle. They were able to take the Rebels out of the their normal offensive sets and kept the game close right to the end.
Derrick Jasper, who missed all of last year with micro fracture surgery on his left knee, had the leave the game with seven minutes remaining in the first half after perhaps re-injuring the same knee. Coach Kruger is awaiting today's tests to see how much time Jasper will miss. The fact that Kruger has used 11 players in most of their games shows he will find a competent replacement for Jasper.
The Rebels have the next eight days off before a classic "trap" game in Wyoming on Wednesday. The trap is there because three days later the Rebels will meet Conference leader BYU at home, where there are very few seats still available.
The biggest game in the Mountain West Conference season just might be tonight, when the No. 10 BYU Cougars head to "The Pit" to meet No. 23 New Mexico. The Rebels have played both of these teams on their home court, losing to the Cougars by four and beating the Lobo's by 12.
Right now these three teams are the class of the MWC, and if they all hold serve at home and get at least one win in the Mountain West Conference Tournament, they should all be dancing in the NCAA's. The sleeper teams are Utah and San Diego State, both of whom will be dangerous down the stretch.
People who know and watch sports regularly have always said that when a team plays poorly and can still win the game, it is a team that can do serious damage in the NCAA's. UNLV was that team last night; Let's hope it continues.
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