Rebels fail physical exam

HONOLULU — Muscling his way to the basket whenever he wanted, and stepping outside to drop a 3-pointer early in the game, Marcus Johnson helped Southern California overpower and punch out UNLV.

Johnson’s 19 points and nine rebounds led the Trojans to a dominant 67-56 victory in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic on Friday.

“I wanted to be physical, and we’re a physical team,” Johnson said. “We’re a hit-first team.”

The Rebels (12-2) were pummeled from the start, never countered and had their five-game winning streak stopped before a crowd of 6,172 at the Stan Sheriff Center.

Sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield scored 17 points and was the only UNLV player to reach double figures.

If the Rebels had a Christmas wish list, this was not it: 34 percent shooting, 15 turnovers and two total field goals by the trio of Derrick Jasper, Chace Stanback and Tre’Von Willis.

“It was another physical team that came in and knocked us around, and we didn’t handle that well,” coach Lon Kruger said. “You have to deliver the first blow instead of responding when you’re getting popped all the time.”

All the talk about UNLV being the best team on the West Coast was premature, and it won’t be heard again for a while.

The Rebels will go 11 days between games, so there’s plenty of time to try to correct all that went wrong before the Mountain West Conference opener at Brigham Young on Jan. 6.

With the Rebels’ nonconference season in the rear-view mirror, Kruger had a long flight home from Hawaii to reflect.

“This team has progressed well,” he said. “It’s a very good nonconference (season), but a very disappointing way to finish it.”

A swarming, intense defense and inside strength carried USC (8-4) to its sixth straight win.

Johnson scored 12 points and Mike Gerrity had 10 as the Trojans ran away to a 39-25 halftime lead. Johnson scored on a layup and a jumper, and Gerrity made a 3-pointer during USC’s 18-4 run late in the half.

Gerrity, a senior point guard, finished with 13 points, three assists and no turnovers in 40 minutes. Johnson called Gerrity, the Most Valuable Player of the eight-team tournament, “the one-man press breaker.”

Gerrity, who transferred to USC, was granted a waiver by the NCAA to become immediately eligible last week, and he debuted in a 77-55 victory over Tennessee on Dec. 19. The Trojans, picked ninth in the Pac-10 Conference preseason poll, are the West Coast’s most improved team since Gerrity’s addition.

“Before the season when they picked us ninth, I said, ‘That’s fine. It gives us the opportunity to prove some people wrong,'” Gerrity said.

“We kind of pride ourselves on defense. This was a championship game, so we tried to up the intensity.”

The Trojans turned the Rebels’ offense into a ragged fire drill, and one possession midway through the second half served as evidence.

Trailing 52-35 and in need of quick scores, UNLV was forced to dribble and pass around the perimeter until the shot clock was down to five seconds. Anthony Marshall, 1-for-20 from 3-point range this season, had to launch an errant 22-footer.

A few minutes later, Johnson dropped a 17-foot jumper to push USC’s lead to 57-38.

“From the start, we came out flat and our shots weren’t falling,” Bellfield said. “They were more aggressive. They were a lot more physical. Hopefully we don’t make this mistake again.”

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.

Southern California 67

UNLV 56

UNLV Min FG-A FT-A R A PF TP

Stanback 13 1-5 2-2 0 0 4 5

Shaw 23 2-7 2-2 6 0 3 7

Bellfield 32 7-16 2-2 3 3 3 17

Wallace 25 3-6 0-0 3 0 3 8

Jasper 21 1-3 1-1 2 0 3 3

Marshall 16 0-2 3-4 3 0 3 3

Massamba 5 0-0 2-2 4 0 0 2

Jones 16 3-5 0-0 0 0 3 6

Hawkins 6 0-0 0-0 1 1 0 0

Willis 29 0-6 4-4 2 4 5 4

Santee 14 0-0 1-2 5 0 1 1

TOTALS 200 17-50 17-19 31 8 28 56

Field goals–34.0%. Free throws–89.5%.

Three-point goals–5-22 (Wallace 2-4, Stanback 1-1, Shaw 1-5, Bellfield 1-5, Jones 0-1, Marshall 0-2, Willis 0-4). Team rebounds–2. Blocked shots–3 (Shaw 2, Willis). Turnovers–15 (Stanback 4, Shaw 3, Jones 2, Jasper, Willis, Marshall, Wallace, Bellfield, Santee). Steals–2 (Wallace, Willis).

USC Min FG-A FT-A R A PF TP

Johnson 34 8-14 2-6 9 1 2 19

Stepheson 16 1-4 2-4 4 0 4 4

Vucevic 32 2-5 3-4 7 2 5 7

Lewis 37 4-9 6-8 2 1 1 14

Gerrity 40 4-8 3-6 2 3 1 13

Washington 26 2-5 5-7 4 0 2 9

Simmons 15 0-2 1-2 1 0 2 1

TOTALS 200 21-47 22-37 30 7 17 67

Field goals–44.7%. Free throws–59.5%.

Three-point goals–3-5 (Gerrity 2-2, Johnson 1-1, Vucevic 0-1, Lewis 0-1). Team rebounds–1. Blocked shots–2 (Washington, Johnson). Turnovers– 8 (Lewis 3, Washington 2, Vucevic 2). Steals–4 (Johnson 2, Lewis, Gerrity).

A–6,172. Officials–JB Caldwell, Terry Moore, Brad Ferrie. Technical fouls–None.

UNLV 25 31 — 56

Southern California 39 28 — 67

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