Oscar Bellfield scored 17 points and took over down the stretch to help UNLV knock off 16th-ranked Louisville 76-71 at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday afternoon.
The Cardinals erased a 19-point second-half deficit and tied the game at 62-62 with 5:22 to play, but Bellfield scored the next eight UNLV points before Darris Santee made a pair of free throws to put the Rebels back in front 72-66 with less than two minutes remaining.
Santee finished the game with 13 points and five rebounds and combined with Matt Shaw and Brice Massamba to hold Louisville star center Samardo Samuels to 13 points and three rebounds.
Tre’Von Willis had 16 points and nine assists, while Derrick Jasper added 12 points for the Rebels.
Louisville tied the game twice in the second half, but never led. Edgar Sosa led the Cardinals with 18 points. Rakeem Buckles had 10 points and 11 rebounds in just 21 minutes of action.
UNLV held a 40-30 halftime advantage thanks in large part to a 5-for-12 performance from 3-point range in the opening half.
It blew a 19-point second-half advantage partly due to going 0 of 10 as a team after the break.
Brice Massamba did not attempt a shot in five minutes of action in the first half.
He came out and made back-to-back layups to open the second half and extend UNLV’s lead to 44-30.
Massamba then quickly picked up his third foul and was replaced in the lineup by Darris Santee, who got an open dunk on his first offensive possession of the half.
Santee also scored the next four UNLV points as the lead got as big as 50-32. The lead soon got to 19, but didn’t last very long.
In all, the centers combined for the first 10 Rebel points of the second half.
A 19-point UNLV lead shrunk quickly to a 56-45 advantage, by Derrick Jasper scored a driving basket to push the lead back to 13 out of a timeout.
The ball never actually went through the hoop, though. Two different Lousville players tried to stop the ball from going through the net and goaltending was called.
The play appeared to stop the bleeding for UNLV, but it proved to be only a temporary fix. The play propelled Louisville to a 11-2 run that got it within six at 60-56 when the Rebels finally called a timeout with 7:40 to play.
The referees had a lengthy discussion as to whether a foul called on Louisville’s Peyton Siva against Oscar Bellfield when he was dunking should be ruled an intentional foul.
They went to the video to help them make the determination.
Rick Pitino came over to get involved in the conversation. After a few seconds, Lon Kruger came quickly down the sideline to make sure his voice would be heard, as well.
Kruger’s march to midcourt drew quite a positive reaction from the crowd, which was stunned to have seen a 19-point lead evaporate so quickly.
Rick Pitino made sure to shake hands with not only the UNLV coaching staff, including Lon Kruger, but each player after the game.
Last year, Pitino snubbed Kruger and the Rebels when he didn’t shake hands after UNLV’s road win in Louisville.
He even had some nice things to say about the team and its fans.
“I like this team. I like teams that play hard,” he said. “They’re young and they are going to get better.”
He also said the rowdy atmosphere the fans created was part of the reason he wanted to play this game.
“This is as tough an atmosphere as any we’ll face in the Big East,” he said. “We wanted to play this game to help us get ready for tough road games in league and against Kentucky.”
Apparently, he hasn’t seen the kind of sterile crowds that are here for games against teams like Pittsburg State and Holy Cross.
UNLV has been to the Final Four on several occasions and even won a national championship.
That seemingly obvious fact is a public service announcement to the fans that chose to rush the court in celebration after the Rebels sealed the victory.
Apparently, the young fans weren’t aware that this was a November home win against the 16th-ranked team in the country that was playing its first road game.
Join the celebration
While many UNLV players were celebrating Saturday’s victory, one was studying the stat sheet intently.
Tre’Von Willis, who finished with 16 points, nine assists and six rebounds, stared down at the box score in the hallway and didn’t look up the entire time he walked down the hall to the media room to do interviews.
Hopefully, he was admiring his assist total and not lamenting his 1-for7 performance from 3-point range.
We've only just begun
The Lady Rebels are finishing up their home game with Boise State next door and that's not even the end of the day for UNLV sports.
Many people here at the Thomas & Mack center, Review-Journal bloggers included, will now make the trek west down Tropicana to Sam Boyd Stadium to watch the football team wrap up its season against San Diego State.
College hoops junkies can go the other way on Tropicana and check out the final two games of the Las Vegas Invitational at the Orleans Arena.
The highlight of the night features unbeaten Oklahoma State taking on Utah, fresh off its upset of No. 20 Illinois last night.