UNLV’s talented trio of Anthony Bennett, Bryce Dejean-Jones and Anthony Marshall accounted for nearly 80 percent of the Runnin’ Rebels points.
Quintrell Thomas scored the ones that mattered most.
Thomas, a senior reserve forward on coach Dave Rice’s mostly young squad, grabbed Marshall’s airball under the basket and scored on a short hook shot with 1.2 seconds remaining to lift No. 21 UNLV to a 76-75 win over California on Sunday.
”I saw it was going to be an airball so I just tried to go get it as fast as I could,” Thomas said. ”I saw the guy in (Marshall’s) face so I assumed if it was going to go anywhere it was going short. I was surprised I beat the shot clock.”
He did, just barely, helping the Rebels (7-1) stay unbeaten on the road while extending their winning streak to six games.
It almost didn’t get to that point.
UNLV led for most of the second half but trailed 75-74 following two free throws by Cal’s Justin Cobbs with 11.9 seconds left. After Rice called timeout, Marshall got the ball near the top of the key and rushed a long jumper that Thomas alertly grabbed and flipped in.
Thomas was fouled on the play but missed the free throw. Justin Hawkins then blocked a 3-point attempt by Cobbs from midcourt as the buzzer sounded.
”Found a way,” Rice said. ”Sometimes basketball just comes down to one play. We were fortunate, but at the same time we made our luck and we were in the right spot at the right time.”
Bennett had career-highs of 25 points and 13 rebounds and led UNLV to its sixth straight win. Dejean-Jones also had a career-best 22 points, and Marshall added 13.
Allen Crabbe scored 18 for California, which was in position to beat a ranked opponent at home for the first time since 2009. Thomas’ shot ended the Bears’ upset bid.
”We had our chances,” said coach Mike Montgomery, who is 3-11 against Top 25 teams since arriving at Cal four years ago. ”One of our Achilles heels is giving up offensive rebounds. We got what we wanted. Either we fell asleep or we were mismatched.”
The Rebels weren’t sharp offensively early and trailed most of the first half. They made up for it by dominating the boards despite losing leading rebounder Mike Moser to a dislocated elbow less than five minutes into the game.
Moser crashed to the floor during a scramble for a loose ball and lay on his stomach for several moments as trainers rushed to him. Coach Dave Rice also made his way over before Moser, who missed UNLV’s previous game against Portland with a hip injury, slowly was helped to his feet and escorted into the locker room. He clutched the shirt of an assistant coach for support as he walked off.
”It’s not good,” Rice said. ”I would suspect we’ll be playing without him for some time.”
The loss of Moser didn’t seem to slow the Rebels.
They had three players in double figures by halftime, limited Cal to one offensive rebound, and outscored the Bears 22-6 in the paint in the first half. Then they held off a late charge by the Bears.
Cal backup center Robert Thurman’s putback gave Cal a 72-70 lead before Bennett tied it with a thunderous one-handed dunk from the baseline.
Crabbe made a free throw to break the tie, but Bennett followed with a 15-foot jumper to put the Rebels up 74-73. Cobbs then made two free throws after being fouled by Marshall, setting the stage for Thomas’ game-winner after he initially set a screen to free Marshall.
”We couldn’t get Cal stopped for most of the game,” Rice said. ”We know we’ve got to get better. I’ve said from Day 1 that we’re a work in progress. But this was a major step in the right direction, to find a way to win.”
UNLV, which beat Cal 85-68 on Dec. 23, 2011, leads 5-1 in the series.
Cal (6-2) played a long stretch of the first half without its best player. Crabbe went to the bench for the final 6:49 after picking up his third foul.
Marshall made one free throw following Crabbe’s foul to give the Rebels their first lead. He then combined with Bennett for 14 points during a 16-6 run, helping UNLV grab a 45-38 halftime lead.
The Bears fell behind by nine early in the second half before rallying behind Crabbe to set up the wild finish.
Richard Solomon finished with 14 points and eight rebounds for Cal, which missed 13 free throws, including three by Crabbe.
”If I make two of them, we win,” Crabbe said. ”It hurts because we had made a big defensive play and we were right there. It was a perfect day to show what we could do and it came down to one play.”