UNLV hands No. 19 Illinois its first loss, 64-48
By RICK GANO
CHICAGO (AP) Mike Moser's legs were sound and his game was solid Saturday as he led UNLV to a convincing 64-48 victory over No. 19 and previously unbeaten Illinois.
Moser scored 17 points - more than his previous three games combined - and pulled down 11 rebounds for the Runnin' Rebels, who tied up the Illini with a scrappy, aggressive, switching defense.
"It was kind of a struggle the last couple games. This game we just kind of played. There wasn't a lot of double teams or anything like that. I was able to do my thing and play real free," said Moser, who shot 6 of 11 from the field.
UNLV (11-2) got a bit of revenge for a 73-62 loss to the Illini in the second round of the NCAA tournament last March, but that wasn't really that much of a factor, first-year coach Dave Rice said. What was really bugging UNLV was a loss a week ago at Wisconsin.
"I was asked all week about the NCAA tournament game last year and I wasn't here, but I didn't feel like that was a big part of the motivation," Rice said. "I think the bigger thing was the fact our guys were really frustrated with our effort last week. We didn't bring energy. We didn't execute. ... We were ready today."
UNLV, which beat then-No. 1 North Carolina earlier this season, double-teamed Illinois center Meyers Leonard early and then backed off, but made sure it kept switching all over the floor throughout the game. The Runnin' Rebels were quicker to the ball most of the evening and also blocked nine shots at the United Center.
The cold-shooting Illini (10-1) were led by 19 points from D.J. Richardson. Illinois shot 25.4 percent (16 for 63) and had 15 turnovers. The Illini went 7 of 25 from 3-point range and 9 of 18 on free throws.
"I definitely could sense their frustration. They got stagnant," Moser said. "We knew just about everything they were about to do. We were able to switch for every move they had. They just couldn't do much against us."
Moser managed just four points against the Badgers and had only 16 in his three previous games. He was just fresher on Saturday
"So much of Mike's success comes from his energy. For whatever reason his energy was little bit down the last couple of weeks," Rice said. "He'd complained a little bit the last couple of games about not having any legs. ... He was very good today."
Thomas hit a jumper to start the Runnin' Rebels' late first-half spurt and also had a three-point play after an Illini turnover.
Oscar Bellfield's two free throws with just more than a minute to play gave the Runnin' Rebels a 33-22 lead they held at halftime.
In the opening 20 minutes, Illinois had nine turnovers and made just eight of 28 field goal attempts, including 3 of 11 on 3-pointers as it disappointed a large, orange-clad throng of fans.
"They came out swinging and we didn't punch back. They were definitely the aggressor from the tip and they kept it going pretty much throughout the game," said Illini guard Sam Maniscalco, who shot 1 for 10, including 1 for 7 on 3-pointers.
"You can't dig yourself a hole like that, especially against an opponent of that caliber that has that kind of scoring punch and athleticism."
The Illini then missed eight of their first nine attempts to start the second half, but Richardson's 3-pointer helped the Illini get within eight.
Then the Runnin' Rebels took off. Carlos Lopez had a nice follow shot, Kendall Wallace sank a long 3-pointer and Moser drove for a basket after another Illini turnover as the Rebels ran out to a 15-point lead with 11:15 to go.
Richardson hit his fourth 3-pointer of the second half to get the Illini within 11 with 6:14 remaining. Illinois whittled it to eight with 4:24 to go on a basket by Leonard.
But Thomas had a dunk with 2:25 remaining to end a 7-minute field goal drought for UNLV and the Runnin' Rebels regained control.
Illinois, which is 32-11 at the United Center, has lost three straight and five of six on the Chicago Bulls' home floor.
"My third year up here and I'm 0-3," Richardson said. "It's tough a third time coming up here and laying an egg."
Updated December 17, 2011