Las Vegas can be a dangerous trip for ranked teams. The sights and sound can be enough to distract anyone, much less a group of people in the 18-23 year-old age bracket. But there's also another issue, one that #16 Louisville ran into on Saturday afternoon: there's a pretty good college basketball team in that town. UNLV, expected by many to be a factor in the Mountain West, using a run that covered about a twelve-minute stretch from the end of the first half to the beginning of the second, knocked off the Cardinals 76-71 in front of a frenzied crowd.
Oscar Bellfield, who isn't talked about as much as players such as Tre'Von Willis, Derrick Jasper and Chace Stanback, led the Runnin' Rebels with seventeen points while Willis added sixteen. Four UNLV players reached double figures on a day in which they shot 48.2% from the field despite going 0-for-10 from behind the arc in the second half. Edgar Sosa led Louisville with eighteen points but their bigs were rather inconsistent outside of Rakeem Buckles (10 points, 11 rebounds). There were also two other stats that jump off of the box score.
Of the twenty-seven shots that UNLV made twenty-one were assisted; that's outstanding even though Lon Kruger's team has been noted for their willingness to share the basketball. Louisville, on the other hand, finished the game with ten assists on twenty-four field goals. Assist-to-turnover ratios were also key; UNLV finished with 21 assists/13 turnovers while Louisville had 10 assists/16 turnovers. That simply will not get the job done, especially on the road. The Runnin' Rebels remain undefeated and if you weren't sold on this team being a threat in the Mountain West you should be.
Three Key Happenings
1. St. John's had a very good weekend in Philly. The Red Storm are now 5-0 following wins over Siena and Temple in the Philly Hoop Group Classic. Saturday's 55-48 win over the Owls wasn't pretty (halftime score: 22-21 Owls) but the Red Storm were able to rely on their defense to pull through in the end. They've improved offensively but with the number of bodies at Norm Roberts' disposal they're going to win games with their depth and defense; don't expect them to be the second coming of the Phoenix Suns.
St. John's held Temple to 28.1% from the field and 3-for-14 from behind the arc while also finishing the night a +3 in rebounding margin, which made up for a bad night taking care of the basketball (17 turnovers). D.J. Kennedy (15 points) and Dwight Hardy (11 points in 21 minutes), along with Paris Horne, will be the guys who lead the way in the scoring column. If everyone understands and accepts their roles the Red Storm can only get better as the season progresses.
2. Washington State had a very good weekend in Alaska. Also ignored on the national landscape is what Washington State did in the Great Alaska Shootout, taking home the crown with a 93-56 pasting of San Diego in tonight's title game. There were questions regarding how the Cougars would deal with the change from Tony Bennett to Ken Bone but they've looked good so far, winning their three games in Anchorage by an average margin of 21.7 ppg. Klay Thompson went off for forty-three in the win, and combining him with the likes of DeAngelo Casto and Reggie Moore you've got a dangerous team in what's looked so far to be an underwhelming Pac-10. This result is a good start for the Cougars as well as one small piece of redemption for their league, which has taken a lot of hits nationally for their slow start.
3. Illinois drops two in the Las Vegas Invitational. For the second consecutive night Illinois struggled to make plays down the stretch, losing to Bradley 72-68 in the third place game of the Las Vegas Invitational at the Orleans Arena. Andrew Warren, who was one of five Braves to finish the game in double figures, hit what turned out to be the game-winning shot when his three pointer with less than thirty seconds remaining fell through the basket.
But the issues here lie with the Fighting Illini, who lost despite owing a 43-29 edge on the glass due to fifteen turnovers, 4-for-18 shooting from behind the arc and no scoring outside of Mike Davis (17 points), Mike Tisdale (12) and Demetri McCamey (10 on 4-for-13 shooting). Davis and Tisdale have been Bruce Weber's most consistent players but they're going to need help from guys like McCamey, D.J. Richardson and Alex Legion (just to name three) come conference play. This weekend simply underlined that fact.
Top Three Games
1. DePaul 68, Detroit 66 (OT) It would be fair to argue that the Demons should have won a game like this by a wider margin but to consider where Jerry Wainwright's team was last season a win is a win. Will Walker and Eric Wallace combined for thirty-six points in the win.
2. UNLV 76, #16 Louisville 71 See above.
3. St. Francis (NY) 66, Colgate 65 Ricky Cadell's corner jumper as time expired gave the Terriers the one-point win in Hamilton. SFNY was down thirteen with twelve minutes to go, and Cadell led them with fifteen points. Yaw Gyawu led all scorers with twenty-two in a losing effort.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Klay Thompson (Washington State) The sophomore poured in forty-three points in the Cougars' 93-56 win over San Diego to win the Great Alaska Shootout.
2. F Andrew Nicholson (St. Bonaventure) Nicholson posted an impressive double-double of 29 points and 14 rebounds in the Bonnies' 98-71 win over Norfolk State.
3. G Keion Bell (Pepperdine) Bell scored thirty-four points and grabbed nine rebounds in the Waves' 82-73 win over Monmouth.