Charlie Riedel / AP
Published Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010 | 4:30 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010 | 8:32 p.m.
Final, UNLV wins 63-59
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — UNLV couldn't buy a 3-pointer for much of the night, and a short-handed Kansas State team held close and kept its sell-out crowd into the game until the closing minutes.
Then Oscar Bellfield delivered in a big game yet again.
The junior point guard preserved a late 3-point lead with a big open-court block from behind on 6-foot-8 Jamar Samuels, then leading by two, hit the team's second trey of the game with just over a minute to go.
UNLV held on for a 63-59 win, improving to 11-2 heading into an extended holiday break. The Rebels aren't back in action until Dec. 30 at home against Central Michigan.
Kansas State was without star seniors Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly, who just before the game were ruled ineligible by the NCAA for committing a secondary violation.
Without them, K-State got surprising performances early from reserves such as sophomore Nick Russell, whose half-court heave at the buzzer sent the Cats to the locker room with a 34-32 edge. But UNLV buckled down defensively after the break, Tre'Von Willis was big on both ends in helping the Rebels construct a 6-point lead, and Lon Kruger's club held on.
Willis led the Rebels with 16 points, while Bellfield had 13.
The Rebels were just 2-of-14 from 3-point range, but got just enough offense by attacking the rim aggressively in the second half, only attempting four threes after the break. As a team, UNLV was 21-of-55 from the floor and a solid 19-of-24 from the free throw line.
Russell and Samuels each had 11 for K-State, who dropped to 9-3 and will be without Pullen for three games. The punishment for Kelly is not yet determined.
For full postgame coverage, stay tuned to lasvegassun.com/rebels.
3:06, Second Half, UNLV leads 56-53
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — UNLV isn't just trying to cling to a 3-point lead late at the Sprint Center over No. 11 Kansas State, but also trying to keep a loud, wild sell-out crowd quiet in the process.
Oscar Bellfield was huge in that effort just before the timeout, after missing a 3-pointer that made the Rebels just 1-of-12 on the night from deep.
The outlet pass found 6-foot-8 Jamar Samuels open for a dunk with no one in front of him. Bellfield swooped in and swatted it away, as the Rebels protected a 56-53 lead heading into the game's final TV timeout.
Both teams are in the double bonus now as we head to the stretch, and UNLV is 6-of-9 since entering the bonus with 9:20 left. K-State has been strong, but, remember, on the year is a 54.5 percent free throw shooting team.
11:47, Second Half, UNLV leads 48-42
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Rebels have calmed down on the defensive end, quieted a sell-out crowd at the Sprint Center and strung up enough offense to take a 48-42 lead on No. 11 Kansas State with 11:47 left to play.
Willis has six points so far this half, and assisted a Quintrell Thomas layup just before a recent K-State timeout to help push a current Rebels lead that also saw him score on an aggressive drive. In the middle was a strong, reverse and-one finish by Derrick Jasper, as the Rebels have started attacking the rim more rather than settling for outside looks.
Meanwhile, Kansas State's young ballhandlers are starting to look the part. Will Spradling and Nick Russell are both seeing traps and double-teams, and while they're not turning it over frequently, the Wildcats offense is having a tough time getting set up.
Halftime, K-State leads 34-32
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — UNLV didn't score a field goal in almost eight minutes to close out the first half, while short-handed Kansas State came alive. The Cats capped their comeback with a half-court heave from Nick Russell at the halftime buzzer to give them a 34-32 lead at the break.
On the stat sheet, K-State has been far from spectacular, but the Rebels are having more than a tough time looking comfortable in front of a hostile crowd that is now alive.
UNLV was just 12-of-33 from the floor and 1-of-8 from deep in the first half. Meanwhile, K-State has 3 assists, 12 turnovers and is 6-of-12 from the free throw line. But Russell has been monstrous, filling in for the ineligible Jake Pullen.
The little-used sophomore has a game-high 11 points and three rebounds.
For UNLV, Tre'Von Willis has a team-high eight points, while Chace Stanback has struggled mightily from the outside, going 1-of-5 from the floor.
The most crucial stretch of this game for UNLV might be the first five minutes of the second half, because if Kansas State keeps this up, the crowd might swallow what's left of the Rebels' collective confidence.
7:50, Second Half, UNLV leads 23-17
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Rebels have gone cold from long range at the Sprint Center, but now are starting to attack Kansas State at the rim and are holding on to a 23-17 lead.
UNLV is also staying somewhat strong on the defensive end as K-State is without two of its top scorers.
The Rebels are 10-of-22 from the floor and just 1-of-8 from deep, while the Cats are an efficient, conservative 7-of-15 overall.
UNLV is having some struggles defending the interior, as Lon Kruger is subbing out his three big men after every foul. It's hard to tell if its made them play any tighter, but it's certainly not helping.
Meanwhile, the Rebels have started attacking the rim hard as the outside shots aren't falling. Just before the latest TV timeout, Derrick Jasper dropped in a nice and-one finish off of a backdoor feed from Oscar Bellfield. Also coming on now is Anthony Marshall, who has made a couple of nice drives to the goal after missing an outside look after first coming in off of the bench.
15:49, First Half, UNLV leads 10-7
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Early on, UNLV is attacking Kansas State where it is now the weakest.
First, the Rebels went inside to Quintrell Thomas, who slipped free for two buckets against an interior defense that is without Curtis Kelly. Then Tre'Von Willis, guarded by the inexperienced Nick Russell as opposed to Jake Pullen, drove for two more hoops.
Kansas State is keeping it close, though, by attacking the offensive glass. Even without Kelly, Frank Martin still has four big bodies to throw at UNLV, and on one key possession, the Cats grabbed three offensive caroms, ultimately getting a triple from Will Spradling at the end.
The Rebels definitely look like the more confident team, as K-State is going to have to have at least two or three unlikely suspects step up with its two senior leaders out.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — UNLV just got its upper hand, and we're still 45 minutes from tip-off.
K-State seniors Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly, two of the team's three leading scorers, are both out for tonight's game.
The school put out a release that it is completing a review of a secondary violation of NCAA rules and is seeking reinstatement of both.
Both were declared ineligible on Monday by K-State after they were declared to have received impermissible benefits on the purchase of clothing at a local department store.
Pullen will be out for three games, while a final ruling on Kelly has yet to be made.
This puts that much more pressure on K-State guards Will Spradling and Rodney McGruder to handle the Rebels' heavy pressure defense.
Gotta also change my prediction. UNLV 75, K-State 60.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Well, if UNLV has one thing going its way here tonight that's already apparent, it's that the Rebels have already seen their share of hostile road environments. They've also gotten used to life on the road, playing six of their first 12 games outside of the 702 area code.
Yes, this is supposed to be a 'neutral court' game against No. 11 Kansas State, but as was the case last year when the Wildcats had to play at the Orleans Arena, the Rebels won't have many in their corner.
A sell-out crowd of nearly 19,000 is expected to fill the Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City tonight, and not many will be wearing red. That's already apparent by walking the revitalized area around the arena more than two hours before tip-off.
Both teams are still licking some pretty fresh wounds, though, which should add some fire to an already highly-anticipated showdown.
The Wildcats suffered a tough 57-44 loss at Florida on Saturday, going just 15-of-55 from the floor and completely shutting down offensively in the second half after starting it with a 23-20 edge.
As for UNLV, while a 72-50 romp over Southern Utah on Saturday felt nice, the Rebels still have to regain their edge and swagger from earlier this season that was somewhat lost during a two-game losing skid a week ago.
This game has already been analyzed from every possible angle, but as we narrow the scope nearing tip-off, here are three things to watch maybe closer than anything else during tonight's contest.
1) Taking the upper hand
Both teams play tough, physical defense, and UNLV will try to extend it into the full-court as it did against so many teams early this season. The Rebels have forced 217 turnovers this season, and K-State doesn't have quite the backcourt depth it did a year ago.
If the Rebels can assert themselves early and get into the kitchens of the Wildcats' younger guards — freshman Will Spradling and sophomore Rodney McGruder — they could potentially take the upper hand and dictate the game much the same way K-State did last year in a 95-80 rout at the Orleans.
K-State, on the other hand, will need Spradling and Pullen to play as turnover-free as humanly possible.
2) Making some big noise
While the Rebels hold an edge in overall talent and depth in the backcourt, the Wildcats have it up front.
UNLV's 6-foot-8 sophomore Quintrell Thomas might be able to fare against K-State's bigs better than any of his teammates, but that will also involve him staying out of foul trouble
If he's not on the floor, it could potentially be a big night for K-State's top duo of big men in senior Curtis Kelly and junior Jamar Samuels. Frank Martin also has three other strong frontcourt options at his disposal in Freddy Asprilla, Jordan Henriquez-Roberts and Wally Judge.
However, both Kelly and Samuels killed the Rebels a year ago, combining for 27 points, and both are struggling so far this season for various reasons. This could be a big opportunity for both of them to get back on track with Big 12 play looming near.
3) The x-factors
For UNLV, it is sophomore guard Anthony Marshall, who goes back to his role as a reserve behind Tre'Von Willis following a spot start in place of Derrick Jasper on Saturday night.
While playing Jasper's part, Marshall got back to his roots, using his length, athleticism and finishing skills to break apart Southern Utah's defensive scheme and keep UNLV ahead.
After not relying on his struggling outside shot, Marshall torched SUU for a career-high 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting, also adding three assists, no turnovers, two steals and two rebounds.
On the other side, Spradling probably holds the key to everything.
He's taken over the point guard duties from Pullen, who is again being relied on to simply score. If UNLV can pressure Spradling — a one-time Rebels recruiting target — and force him into turnovers, it could keep the game at the chaotic pace it prefers. Plus, the Rebels could leave Spradling no choice but to adapt, because Martin doesn't really have a reliable point guard option behind the baby-faced frosh.
As for a prediction for tonight, I'm still leaning towards Kansas State, 73-71. I think UNLV has a better chance of winning here than it did at Louisville two weeks ago, as K-State appears to have some internal issues that could spill over badly onto the floor at any point. I'm predicting a two-point game mostly because absolutely nothing would surprise me in terms of an outcome.
For tonight's Pick to Click, I'm going with Tre'Von Willis, who is only shooting 42.7 percent this season (down from 47.8 a year ago), but is now rounding back into strong form. He has a knack for showing up in a big way for games like this in his UNLV career, and is well-rested after only playing 17 minutes on Saturday.
Stay tuned for updates as the action unfolds tonight, and, as always, join the conversation with me during the game by adding the #unlvmbb hashtag to your tweets. Or, you can give me a follow at twitter.com/ryanmgreene.
Talk to you shortly after tip-off.