No happy New Year for Cards; UNLV wins

The University of Louisville Cardinals ended 2008 the same way they began it - with a surprising home loss.

On Jan. 1 it was a 58-57 loss to Cincinnati in their Big East opener.

Wednesday it was a 56-55 loss to UNLV in front of 19,314 fans at Freedom Hall.

"That was a tough way to bring in the new year," said UofL coach Rick Pitino, whose team won 15 straight home games between New Year's Day and New Year's Eve. "Our guys played their hearts out at the end, but Las Vegas just made the last play."

Oscar Bellfield's bank shot high off the glass, over UofL 6-foot-9 freshman center Samardo Samuels, put the Runnin' Rebels ahead with 17 seconds to play.

But the Cards had a chance to make a final play of their own. After a timeout they worked the ball around before senior forward Terrence Williams got it at the top of the key with about six seconds remaining. Williams came off a screen and drove to the basket, but his attempt off the glass missed with two seconds to play.

"It looked like a lot of contact to me, but it's up to the referees," said junior forward Earl Clark, who scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds in defeat.

Sophomore guard Preston Knowles led 18th-ranked Louisville (8-3) with 11 points, while Samuels added 10 points and seven rebounds. T-Will scored nine points, but was just 2-for-15 from the field. Williams, who also finished with eight rebounds, five assists and five steals, seemed to take the loss especially hard, not addressing the media after the game.

T-Will's shooting woes were mirrored by his team. UofL shot just 29.6 percent (16 of 54) for the field, including 23.1 percent (6-for-26) in the first half.

Senior guard Rene Rougeau scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead UNLV (12-2), which played without its best player, and leading scorer, Wink Adams. The senior guard who is averaging 14.1 points per game suffered an abdominal strain in the Rebels' last game, a Dec. 23 win over Southern Utah.

It was no Adams, no problem for UNLV early. The Rebels ran out to a 10-0 lead as UofL missed its first 11 shots of the game.

Behind some hot outside shooting the Rebels led 22-7 with 7:50 to play in the first half. UNLV hit 5 of 8 three-pointers in the first 20 minutes against UofL, which came in third nationally in three-point field goal percentage defense.

The Cards trimmed the Rebels' lead to 32-21 by halftime, then continued to charge back in the second half. Trailing 41-32 with just less than 10 minutes remaining UofL outscored UNLV 16-6 over the next five minutes and 20 seconds, taking its first lead of the game on a pair of T-Will free throws with 4:31 to play.

Neither team led by more than three points the rest of the way. UofL took a 55-53 lead on two free throws by T-Will with 1:44 remaining, but those were the last points for the Cards.

Tre'Von Willis, who scored 16 points for the Rebels, hit a free throw with 1:17 remaining to cut it to one. Then senior guard Andre McGee turned it over with 42 seconds left to set up Bellfield's heroics.

The mood in the UofL locker room afterward was somber, to say the least, very reminiscent of how it was after that loss to Cincinnati on Jan. 1.

"It was the same exact feeling after that," junior guard Jerry Smith said. ""You can't put it into words, guys just have to stay positive."

The Cards host archrival Kentucky at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

"That's a real, real disappointing loss for us. Our guys are just devastated over it. It's a real disheartening way to bring in the new year with that. We've lost three games now, and we've got the meat of our schedule coming up in a very tough conference, so our backs are to the wall and we've got to come out fighting."

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