unlv basketball:

Kendall Wallace’s storybook Senior Night for UNLV like something out of a movie

Wallace notches 14 points while fellow senior Brice Massamba scores a career-high 15 in 74-63 victory against Wyoming


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Kendall Wallace tries to get the crowd into the game against Wyoming Saturday, March 3, 2012 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the game 74-63 to wind up an unbeaten season at home.

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 (1:15 a.m.)

Big night for UNLV seniors

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KSNV coverage of UNLV's victory against Wyoming to end the regular season, March 3, 2012.

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Las Vegas Sun reporters Ray Brewer and Taylor Bern talk about the UNLV basketball team's 74-63 victory against Wyoming on Senior Night in the regular season finale. They also breakdown next week's Mountain West Conference tournament — where UNLV is the No. 3 seed.

Not since the Annexation of Puerto Rico or Ollie’s free throws has a feel-good story come together as well as Kendall Wallace’s Senior Night on Saturday.

Much like the seminal play in “Little Giants,” or the game-winning shots in “Hoosiers,” Wallace was the hard-working underdog who found himself in the right place at the right time and delivered, much to the delight of a sold-out crowd at the Thomas & Mack Center.

With No. 17 UNLV leading Wyoming by just three midway through the second half, Wallace hit back-to-back 3-pointers, the latter a dagger in the corner that set off the 18,577 fans in attendance and drew a foul that he converted into a four-point play.

Those plays charged up the Rebels (25-7, 9-5) on their way to a 74-63 victory against Wyoming (20-10, 6-8), capping their first undefeated regular-season home record since 1991-92, coach Jerry Tarkanian’s final season.

“I couldn’t have planned it any better,” said Wallace, who scored a season-high 14 points in 13 minutes after making his second start of the year. “I’m just thankful I got the opportunity. It was like a storybook type of thing that went on today.”

The scene was almost too perfect, something a producer may cut out of a screenplay because it seems too unrealistic.

Seniors Oscar Bellfield, Brice Massamba, Chace Stanback and Wallace were honored with framed jerseys on the court before the game.

Bellfield scored seven points and dished out nine assists. He’s now just one shy of tying New Mexico’s Dairese Gary for the all-time Mountain West assists lead (564), a record he’ll likely break early in Thursday night’s rematch against Wyoming in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.

Massamba scored a career-high 15 points, a fact that eluded him until it was pointed out during the postgame press conference.

“This was very special to finish off with a bang,” Massamba said.

Of that group, only Stanback, the team’s second-leading scorer, struggled. He went 0-for-4 and played just 15 minutes, taking in most of Wallace’s heroics from the bench.

The limited time was due in part to foul trouble and also to his struggles — including two air balls — when he was out there. His knee didn’t appear to be bothering him and UNLV coach Dave Rice said the extra rest was as much about riding the hot hand as anything else.

As good as the seniors were — Bellfield, Wallace and Massamba combined to shoot 12-for-22 — the underclassmen left their mark, too. In fact, the most important thing UNLV takes from this game moving forward may be sophomore forward Mike Moser’s re-emergence.

Moser registered a game-high 17 points and 12 rebounds — his 14th double-double of the season — and also had three assists. He shot a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor, including a pair of 3s, after shooting 8-of-34 over the previous four games.

All of those performances came together to help UNLV achieve one of the goals it set forth at the beginning of the season.

“As a program, we discussed the importance of re-establishing our home-court advantage,” Rice said. “To not lose a game at home speaks volumes about our fans, the student section and the job they’ve done supporting us. Our guys feel the energy in the building.”

UNLV has a chance to go 22-0 in Las Vegas, including its three victories at the Orleans Arena and potentially three more games at the Mack in the conference tournament.

Considering the biggest questions around this team involve its play outside of the city, the Rebels can’t really prove anything this week. Winning the conference tournament is very important to them, and it will be far from easy, but they’ve already proven that they can win on their home court.

The NCAA Tournament, though not a true road environment, is the only place for UNLV to really test its mettle.

That will come in time. On Saturday night, Rice told his players to enjoy their victory.

“We all remember our Senior Night and how special that can be. You don’t find a way to win the game, it can be a little bit more hollow,” Rice said.

No one will remember this night quite like Wallace.

His original senior season was postponed by a knee injury that has limited his abilities for much of the season. After playing at least 10 minutes in 15 of the first 16 games, he had averaged less than six minutes per game over the past 10.

Yet no matter how many minutes he played, or how frustrated he became by the growing monkey that he flung off his back Saturday, Wallace was always one of the hardest-working guys in practice, and the most supportive on the bench.

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV forward Brice Massamba yells as he picks Kendall Wallace after Wallace was fouled shooting a three point shot against Wyoming during their game Saturday, March 3, 2012. UNLV won the game 74-63 to wind up an unbeaten season at home.

“He’s been so positive through the whole thing,” Moser said. “He’s really been a leader for other guys in the same situation.”

Wallace’s first career points came on a four-point play at Northern Arizona on Dec. 5, 2007. When he stepped to the line to convert his free throw in the second half Saturday, Wallace said he thought back to the game and got the feeling that this was meant to be.

Wallace’s final points came as a designated free-throw shooter after a technical foul. He canned both and raised his arms as he returned to the bench, pumping up the crowd.

Little-used senior overcomes injury and leads the team to a victory in front of at least a dozen friends and family members on Senior Night. As stories go, this will be a fun one for Wallace to think back on and re-tell often in the coming years. He’ll spend the most time on the seconds after he drew a foul on the made 3-pointer.

With the Mack suddenly deafening, Moser came over and screamed in his face while Reggie Smith gave him a friendly kick from the bench. Wallace rose to the occasion at the perfect moment and was surrounded by the people who have made the past five years the best of his life.

“I’ll never forget it. It’s something that I’ll be able to share with my teammates forever,” Wallace said. “That’s what it’s about. A college career is about making memories, and that’s one of the better ones I’ve had so far. I was just glad that I was able to share it with these guys.”

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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