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Utes sweep Rebels aside with win

SALT LAKE CITY — Too many times this year, the Utah men's basketball team has found itself in a tight game in the final minutes, only to lose in the end, including Saturday's heart-wrenching overtime loss to New Mexico.

The Utes found themselves in another tight one Wednesday night against UNLV, but this time, they were the team with the poise down the stretch as they scored five straight points in the final two minutes for a 66-61 victory at the Huntsman Center.

The win gave the Utes a clean sweep over UNLV and put the Rebels' NCAA hopes in jeopardy. Utah, which beat UNLV 73-69 in Las Vegas last month, improved to 12-13 and 5-6 in Mountain West Conference play, while the Rebels fell to 19-7 and 7-5 with their third consecutive loss.

"I thought we were really good at times tonight and also made some mistakes," said Utah coach Jim Boylen. "But that's a really good team we played. ... We hung in there and made enough plays to win."

Carlon Brown led the Utes with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting and Marshall Henderson added 10, including two key free throws with 17 seconds left.

On the other side, Tre'Von Willis was nearly unstoppable, as he scored 32 points on 11-of-19 shooting for the Rebels. But he didn't have much help, as no one else scored in double figures and the rest of the team went just 12-for-34.

The Utes never trailed all night, but the Rebels fought back from a nine-point, second-half deficit and tied the score at 61 on rebound shot by Darris Santee with 2:15 left.

After a Ute timeout, Brown took the ball with the clock shot winding down and drove up the right side, firing up a high shot off the glass that banked in.

"I kind of floated it up there and it went in," said Brown, who was trying to draw a foul. "It was a good shot."

Boylen said the Utes ran the play specifically for Brown.

"It's his job to get us a good shot, and I thought he did," he said.

To Boylen, that was one of several big plays the Utes made down the stretch.

Luka Drca and Kim Tillie came up with big rebounds on Rebel misses down the stretch, and David Foster intimidated Willis into a bad shot on a layup. Also, Henderson sank his clutch free throws with 17 seconds left to put the Utes up 65-61.

"Somebody's got to make a big play," he said. "It comes down to someone making a big play."

It wasn't exactly smooth sailing for the Utes, however, after Brown's big play. Before Willis's missed layup, Brown threw a pass away with just under a minute left. Then with 47 seconds left, Drca, a 93 percent free-throw shooter in MWC play, missed the front end of a 1-and-1.

The Rebels called two timeouts and, with 20 seconds left, Willis tried a 3-pointer from the left angle. UNLV coach Lon Kruger said they weren't necessarily trying for a winning 3-pointer, but he wanted a good shot by Willis. However the shot bounced off the back rim and Henderson corralled the rebound.

"I thought we got a lot from a lot of guys tonight," Boylen said, noting the contributions the Utes got from the likes of Chris Hines (seven points), Jason Washburn (five points), Shawn Glover (six points), Jace Tavita (four points, three assists) and Henderson.

Boylen said the Utes had two of their best practices of the year since the New Mexico game, and it showed in the early going.

The Utes grabbed a 35-27 halftime lead after jumping out to an early 12-point lead, survived a long drought, then turned it on in the final 90 seconds.

After taking a 24-12 lead, the Utes turned sloppy and couldn't score on nine of their next 10 possessions, with six turnovers. The Rebels cut the lead to one before the Utes finished the half on a 7-0 run, with Henderson hitting a 3-pointer just before the buzzer.

In the second half, the Ute lead got as high as nine, but the Rebels wouldn't go away as Willis kept scoring. The Utes led 59-53, but Willis scored six straight as the Utes made consecutive turnovers on poor passes by Tavita and Jay Watkins and the the Rebels tied it at 59-59.

But Watkins scored in the lane for Utah and Santee followed in Oscar Bellfield's miss to tie it at 61, setting up the final run by Utah.

The Utes will head back on the road for a pair of games, Saturday night at San Diego State and Wednesday night against Air Force.

GAME NOTES: The Utes went ahead 22-21 in the all-time series with UNLV and are 13-4 in Salt Lake City. ... Utah shot 53 percent and is now 5-1 when it shoots over 50 percent. ... The Utes played 10 players and everyone got at least nine minutes of action. ... The Utes won the rebounding battle 34-28. ... One of UNLV's top reserves, Matt Shaw, sat out the game with a sprained ankle he apparently suffered in pregame warmups. ... Also out was Derrick Jasper, who is out for five weeks with a sprained knee.