The Rebels took advantage of a tremendous 52 percent (26-48) from the floor to beat a very tenacious Southern Utah team tonight with a 73-60 victory in front of over 10,500 fans at the Thomas and Mack Center.
The final score was overshadowed by an injury to Wink Adams at the 12-minute point of the first half. Adams, making a cut to the basket, went down hard when it appeared he was either fouled or kicked in the groin area. It was later confirmed that Wink suffered a strain in the lower abdomen area and had to be helped off the court.
He appeared in street clothes in the second half and moved gingerly as he congratulated his teammates on their impressive win.
Southern Utah kept it pretty close for most of the first half with clutch three-pointers from Marek and Baker, but midway through the first half the Rebels went on a 16-2 run that virtually put the game away. The Rebels led by 14 at the half, with Rene Rougeau and Oscar Bellfield leading the way.
Rougeau, who seems to be getting better each game, was the leader on the court with Wink out. He finished 7-8 from the floor and 2-2 from the charity stripe, along with a team-high 16 points, seven boards, three blocks, two assists, and a steal.
Joe Darger and Oscar Bellfield each added 11 points, and Kendall Wallace led an inspiring Rebel bench with a career-high 15 points and one definite SportsCenter highlight on a drive into the lane where he was falling and flipped a shot off the glass that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Wallace and Darger both connected on three threes and stopped a number of potential Southern Utah runs in the second half. The Rebels' bench outscored Southern Utah's 29-9.
Many optimists will tell you that out of every bad there will come some good, and tonight that was clearly apparent when the Rebels actually played some of their best team play in the absence of Wink Adams. Don't get me wrong, however—this team needs Wink Adams to play at a high level every night if we are to repeat as Mountain West Tournament Champions and get back to the big dance.
With Adams on the sideline, Lon Kruger got see players like Kendall Wallace, Tre'Von Willis, and Oscar Bellfield get more minutes, and I'm sure, just like me, he liked what he saw.
Overall it was a very good night for the Rebels. Now it's on to Louisville, an important test once again against a quality top 25 team, where the Rebels need to play as well against Rick Pitino's boys as they have in their four previous wins. After that, the Rebels take on the Lobos from New Mexico in their Mountain West opener a week from Saturday at the Thomas and Mack.
The Rebels are 11-2 with one more this year and then 16 conference games. Anything less than 23 wins will probably not get the Rebels to where they want to be in March. We will see.