LAS VEGAS (AP) — Trailing UNLV early in the second half of a quarterfinal matchup in the Mountain West Conference Tournament, Nevada’s Jordan Caroline had one thing on his mind: last year’s tournament championship game.
Nevada struggled through its worst first half of the season, scoring a mere 21 points on 23.3 percent shooting ago, but used a 25-2 run to rally for an 11-point victory and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
On Thursday, Caroline had 21 points and 10 rebounds as the 22nd-ranked Wolf Pack (27-6) were ignited by a 22-6 run early in the second half, erased a 12-point deficit to seize momentum after a dismal offensive performance in the first half and notched a 79-74 victory over UNLV.
“I was just thinking about the Fresno game last year, where we had to come out with a lot of energy to be able to win it, and I think that’s what we did,” Caroline said. “So I felt a lot reminiscent of the Fresno game last year.”
After hitting just 11 of 38 from the floor, including 4 of 12 from long range, and missing 14 of its last 18 in the first half, top-seeded Nevada opened the second half by hitting 9 of 11 from the floor, including 5-for-5 from 3-point range.
“We talked about at halftime if we could just continue to have good spacing and move the ball, our 3 ball would fall down,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. ”
(We) made an adjustment at one of the timeouts against their zone where we ran a double side pick and roll with some unusual spacing that we haven’t done all season long. And our guys did a good job adjusting to that set on the fly. And we changed up a lot of things since our last regular-season game. Our guys for the first time doing things, both offensively and defensively, they did a great job.”
Kendall Stephens added 15 points, five rebounds and five blocked shots, while Josh Hall scored 16 and Caleb Martin had 12 points and five rebounds for the Wolf Pack.
Kris Clyburn led No. 8 seed UNLV (20-13) with 19 points and six rebounds, while Mountain West freshman of the year Brandon McCoy had 12 points and 14 rebounds and Shakur Juiston had 14 points and 12 rebounds.
“We took the fight to them, especially in the first half,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said. “And we did some really good things to put ourselves in a position to win the game down the stretch. Unfortunately, they got hot from the 3. And a lot of those were contested shots, which good teams make.”
UNLV looked nothing like the team that was embarrassed by 26 points on its home floor one week earlier by Nevada, hitting 14 of 32 from the field and 6 of 13 from 3-point range to head into the locker room with a 39-31 lead at the half. The Rebels also outrebounded Nevada, 25-22, while outscoring the Wolf Pack in the paint, 14-10.
“They’re honestly a great shooting team when they’re hot and when their feet set,” Juiston said. “Tonight it was just like they’re going to make some. But we can’t hang our heads, we’ve got to go down there and capitalize on offense and just pound them aside, get our scores the way we need and then come back and try to make them shoot tough 3s again.”
Nevada’s first four buckets in the second half, and five of its first six, were from long range. The Wolf Pack caught the Rebels when Caroline converted a 3-point play at the 13:54 mark and pushed the lead to 53-49 on a Cody Martin jumper.
UNLV’s Jordan Johnson responded with a short jumper, making it 53-51, but that was as close as the Rebels would get. Nevada, which advanced to its third consecutive semifinal round of the tournament, connected on 18 of its final 26 shots.
The Rebels outrebounded Nevada in the contest, 46-31, but committed 14 turnovers, which the Wolf Pack converted into 16 points.
UNLV: After a hot start to ignite the Runnin’ Rebels in their own building, scoring 13 points by halftime, senior guard Jovan Mooring got into foul trouble and was held scoreless in the second half, missing three 3-point attempts over the last 1:17 of the game.
Nevada: Stephens’ hot hand from 3-point range sparked the Wolf Pack offense in the second half. After shooting 2-for-8 from the floor in the first 20 minutes, the senior guard hit 3 of 4 from the field — all from long range. He became the program’s single-season leader for 3-pointers; he now has 118 on the year.
UNLV: Will hope for a call from the NIT selection committee.
Nevada: Will play in Friday’s semifinal round against either Fresno State or San Diego State.