UNLV had been playing under the radar after winning their first six games this season against non-ranked teams.
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Chace Stanback had a career-high 28 points and added 10 rebounds to help UNLV beat top-ranked North Carolina 90-80 on Saturday night in the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational.
Mike Moser added 16 points and 18 rebounds, Oscar Bellfield had 16 points and nine boards and Anthony Marshall finished with 13 points for the Rebels (7-0).
”I could tell on the bus on the way over and at shoot-around how focused we were,” said first-year UNLV coach Dave Rice. ”North Carolina is so well coached. We expected to play really, really well. We felt we had a chance to be competitive. We have four seniors. We don’t want one game to define our program. We want to be judged on our consistency.”
P.J. Hairston and John Henson each had 15 points in the loss for North Carolina (5-1).
”Needless to say, we are extremely disappointed. I would like to congratulate coach Rice and his team,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. ”They did a nice job. We could never get our focus offensively the entire game. What killed us, they got 20 points on offensive rebounds to our six.”
Dexter Strickland had 12 points and John Henson added 11 points and eight rebounds for the Tar Heels, who were outrebounded 48-39.
”I was surprised that we didn’t rebound the basketball better,” Williams said. ”I was surprised about a lot of things we didn’t do. We have to be stronger with the basketball. We have to guard the basketball better. We never did get the flow going. We have to be whole lot more patient.”
After North Carolina took a 42-38 halftime lead, UNLV opened the second half with a 14-0 run as the Heels missed their first 10 shots. They would end up shooting just 31 percent in the half. The Rebels built a 77-63 lead on Lopez’s basket off a rebound with 5:39 left.
”Chace was going 100 percent in the second half. His defense carried us,” said Moser, who was named the Mountain West Conference Player of the Week. ”Oscar Bellfield broke down his defender. Anthony Marshall did all he wanted to do. North Carolina is a great team.”
The Rebels, who won for the first-time in four games against North Carolina, gambled early on, taking 10 of their first 15 shots from three-point range, hitting four. The strategy paid off with the Rebels jumping out to a 17-9 advantage. They went 13 of 32 from long range in the game.
”It was a big game for us,” said Bellfield, who had 13 first-half points, including three three-pointers. ”You got to show up in the big game or in any game. You have to shoot with confidence. Open shot, you just take it.”
The Tar Heels held UNLV scoreless for four minutes and took their first lead 18-17 on Barnes’ baseline jumper with 10:30 left in the opening half.
”Playing at Louisville and at home against them and playing at Wisconsin, that helped a lot,” Bellfield said. ”We’re just cherishing the moment. We feel we’re getting better every day. In the second half, we took another step.”
This was the first time UNLV played a No. 1 team since 1985, oddly enough against the Tar Heels at the Great Alaskan Shootout.
The game was played at the Orleans Arena, five miles from the UNLV campus, and Rebels fans stormed the court after the victory.
The teams have met only on neutral courts. They last played on Dec. 4, 1999, in the championship game of the Food Lion/MVP Classic in Charlotte, NC, where the Heels won 102-78. The teams also met in the 1977 NCAA Final Four in Atlanta, where North Carolina moved on to the national championship game after a 65-60 victory.