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UNLV puts the hurt on UH


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POSTED: Thursday, December 24, 2009

Shaken, rattled, and rolled.

The first two words describe how Hawaii looked on national TV just moments into last night's semifinal against UNLV in the inaugural Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.

The last word is what the Runnin' Rebels did to the Rainbow Warriors in an ESPN2-televised 77-53 rout in front of a Stan Sheriff Center crowd of 3,780.

Nothing went right for UH (6-5) from the opening tip. The Rebels' frenetic pressure and in-your-face defense disrupted the Rainbows' offense to the point that a clean pass to a teammate became a moral victory and halfcourt heaves seemed a sound alternative to a turnover. Stating that the tournament hosts struggled to run their flex motion — just a day removed from looking sharp against College of Charleston — doesn't quite do what happened justice.

UH shot a season-low 34.1 percent from the field, committed 19 turnovers, put up 21 points in its worst first half this year, and had its four-game winning streak snapped. UNLV (12-1) won its fifth straight in denying UH a chance at the first title of the Rainbows' new holiday tournament.

Dwain Williams, one of the few 'Bows to play aggressively, came off the bench to tie a career high with 20 points. That was about it for bright spots.

“;We just didn't match their intensity, at all ... it was just tough running plays,”; Williams said. “;They face-guarded a lot of stuff, took us out of a lot of stuff. Switched everything. We gotta go back to square one I guess and work on pressure like that.”;

The Rainbows have a day to regroup and lick their wounds before facing another talented team, Saint Mary's (10-2), on Christmas day in the third-place game at 2:30 p.m. UNLV takes on USC, which beat the Gaels in the other semifinal, following the third-place game.

If a 15-4 deficit just moments into the contest wasn't a bad enough sign for UH, the music for a group of Japanese all-star cheerleaders during an early timeout sputtered and stopped. After a few uncomfortable moments, the visiting performers simply left the court, embarrassed.

The Rebels did an even better job of quelling any noise UH wanted to make. The Rainbows cut a 25-point deficit to 17 with 8:14 left, but that was as close as it got. UH dropped to 0-3 against the top three teams (along with BYU and New Mexico) in the Mountain West Conference this season.

Besides Williams, offense was hard to come by. UH's top players, Roderick Flemings (eight points, 10 rebounds) and Petras Balocka (four points, five rebounds) were nonfactors. Flemings limped off the court with 7:57 left after hurting his right knee while unsuccessfully trying to take a charge. Nash wasn't sure on his status afterward.

“;We kind of got out of character in terms of how we do things,”; Nash said. “;It led to some easy baskets, some layups. You gotta give UNLV credit. They played a very good basketball game. They took us out of what we wanted to do in that first half. I thought in the second half we fought harder. ... We'll just have to build on those things. We probably won't face another team this year that put quite as much pressure on us at UNLV did.”;

On a night when another top MWC team lost (No. 13 New Mexico) the Rebels made a case for national respect.

UNLV's supposed weakness, 3-point shooting, was a boon instead as the Rebels feasted from beyond the arc. A 6-for-12 effort on treys in the first half helped the Rebels to a 44-21 halftime lead in conjunction with the suffocating defense. UNLV outrebounded UH 41-30 and piled up advantages of 32-18 in points in the paint and 23-11 in fastbreak points.

“;I thought (our) focus, energy, and intensity in taking care of objectives in the first half was terrific,”; Rebels coach Lon Kruger said. “;Dictated on the defensive end, created a lot of opportunities from traps in the backcourt. Just good awareness, good effort.”;

The Rebels looked to hound UH's ball-handlers all over the court. Nash went with a three-guard alignment to counter UNLV's four-guard pressure, but UH couldn't replicate some of the success it enjoyed breaking Charleston's press in the first round on Tuesday.

UH didn't score until 13:53 in the first half against the smothering defense.

Former UH coach Riley Wallace attended the game. His grand nephew, Kendall Wallace, went 2-for-6 for five points for UNLV.

USC 60, Saint Mary's 49

Trojans senior transfer Mike Gerrity had his third straight impressive game since becoming eligible this season, with 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting as USC advanced to tomorrow's title game.

USC (7-4) won its fifth straight game and improved to 10-0 all-time against the in-state opponent from Moraga.

“;We kind of learned from yesterday (a comeback win vs. Western Michigan). We gotta come out the gate and play hard and be aggressive,”; Gerrity said. “;So tried to bring that mentality the first half today. Just took what the defense gave us. They sagged off a little bit, so tried to knock down some jumpers, and when they played up close, get around and make plays for other players.”;

Leonard Washington became academically eligible and made his season debut for USC with 10 points, adding to a bruising front line which limited SMC star center Omar Samhan to 13 points. Nikola Vucevic chipped in with 15 for the Trojans.

It was simply a matter of physicality and athleticism. The Gaels came in averaging 84.4 points per game — 24 more than the Trojans — but were held to just over half that on 30.2 percent shooting.

Western Michigan 75, Northeastern 60

Alex Wolf hit all four of his 3-point shots to lead the Broncos into tomorrow's consolation championship with 15 points. David Kool added 13 and Donald Lawson 11 for WMU (5-5). Northeastern dropped to 2-7.