Rebels try to run past Yellow Jackets in NCAA Tourney first round
Chicago, IL (Sports Network) – In search of their first NCAA Tournament win
since 1991, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels hit the floor at the United Center in
Chicago this afternoon to challenge the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the
first round of the 69th annual event.
As a nationally-ranked team, the Rebels were more than likely on their way to
this version of the postseason, but last weekend the team left no doubt as it
defeated the BYU Cougars in the Mountain West Conference Tournament title game
with a 78-70 decision. The victory was the seventh in a row for the program,
which comes in as a seventh seed in the tourney having put up a 28-6 record
overall in 2006-07.
As for the Yellow Jackets, the 10th seed in the Midwest Region, they are in the
tournament for the fourth time in seven years under the direction of head coach
Paul Hewitt. Of the school’s 15 trips to the NCAA Tournament over the years, 14
have come since 1985. Tech, which comes into the event with a record of 20-11
this season, has a record of 22-14 in the tournament, with the high water mark
coming in 2004 when the Yellow Jackets made it all the way to the title game.
As members of the ACC, the Yellow Jackets lost their initial game in this
year’s conference tournament, pushing Wake Forest to double overtime. However,
the team did close out the regular season with back-to-back victories against
North Carolina and Boston College and also defeated Duke earlier in the
campaign to earn an at-large bid to the tournament.
This is the first meeting between these two squads since they battled in the
1990 national semifinal, which UNLV captured with a 90-81 victory. Two days
after that victory the Rebels went on to crush Duke for the national title with
a 103-73 decision. UNLV has a record of 30-13 in the tournament overall and has
made the Final Four on four different occasions.
The winner of this matchup will contend against the winner of the Texas A&M-
Corpus Christi/Wisconsin victor on Sunday.
A unanimous selection for the ACC All-Freshmen Team and a pick for the All-ACC
Third Team, Javaris Crittenton breathed new life into the Yellow Jackets this
season as he tied for the team scoring lead with Thaddeus Young at 14.6 ppg.
But Crittenton is so much more than just a shooter, even at his young age,
because he also paced the program in both assists (178) and steals (63), not to
mention placing fourth on the unit on the glass with better than three and a
half rebounds per outing. Young, who is a distant second on the assists list
with a mere 62 this season, has been both a positive contributor from three-
point range (.419) and someone who can mix it up in the paint to clear almost
five rebounds per contest as well. Jeremis Smith, the only player on the roster
to have started every game for the squad, accounts for 8.5 ppg and is the
leader in the rebounding department with 5.8 boards per game, not to mention
one of the better three-point threats on the squad at 41.4 percent as well. The
team as a whole is shooting close to 50 percent from the field and has a
rebounding advantage of six per game against the competition.
Operating more often than not with a unit built on speed with as many as four
guards on the floor at a time, the Rebels try to rely more on their perimeter
efforts than anything else. More than one-third of its field goal attempts has
come from beyond the arc, where UNLV is just 36.4 percent accurate, but if you
take enough shots from the perimeter it is bound to go in your favor. Wink
Adams, the team’s leading scorer with 14.3 ppg, is shooting just 39.6 percent
from the field this season, but that hasn’t stopped him from taking 167
attempts outside the arc. Even Wendell White (14.2 ppg), who is first on the
team with 6.2 rpg, gets the urge sometimes to see what sort of damage he can do
with the long ball, but to this point he has made just 1-of-15 chances. Kevin
Kruger, son of head coach Lon Kruger who decided to transfer from Arizona State
to play for his father, was named the MWC Tournament MVP and despite missing a
number of games due to injury was still able to post 13.6 ppg and lead the unit
with 140 assists. Gaston Essengue (7.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg) gets the start up front
for the program, but the biggest impact in the paint for the Rebels has come
from reserve Joel Anthony (5.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and his team-high 105 blocked