Rougeau's rebounds lead Rebels past Utes

Wink Adams and Curtis Terry were the UNLV players brought to the post-game interview session after both scored 20 points in the Rebels' hard-fought 61-55 win over Utah in the semifinals of the Mountain West Conference Tournament on Friday night at the Thomas & Mack Center. But it was another Runnin' Rebel, junior Rene Rougeau, who dominated the discussion afterward.

Rougeau, a 6-foot-6, 205-pound junior, slithered around 7-foot-1 Utah center Luke Nevill for a pair of offensive rebounds in the final 2:17 that kept a key UNLV possession alive and eventually resulted in a basket by Terry that increased UNLV's lead to 53-49 with 1:18 to go.

Thanks to Rougeau's rebounding prowess, the Rebels controlled the ball for an amazing 1:35 before scoring.

Rougeau's first board came after a Joe Darger miss and his second followed an errant 3-point attempt by Adams. By the time Terry to the basket to make it a two possession game, just 1:35 remained.

Adams and Rougeau both hit one-and-one's down the stretch to increase UNLV's lead to six points. Terry's free throw with 18.7 seconds made it 59-55 and wrapped it up.

"I think all the credit goes to Rene for just hustling, flying around and just keeping possessions alive for us," Terry said.

Rougeau finished with the third double-double of his career (12 points, 11 rebounds) and had six offensive boards.

"Rene, he worked hard," Adams said. "He's on the offensive and defensive boards. Whenever we can get extra possessions, it's always to our advantage. We were able to score off them."

Adding to the frustration for Utah head coach Jim Boylen was the fact that keeping Rougeau off the boards was his team's top priority.

"That was A-1 on our board, cutting Rougeau out," Boylen said. "We didn't get it done. That's what he does. That's how he helps them win. He did it last night against TCU. He did it tonight against us.

"It wasn't the volume of offensive rebounds they got. They got nine. But he got six of them, and he got three of them at the right time. … They were so timely. We had made stops and we had played good defense. … But you've got to cut people out to finish off the possession, and we didn't do that."

What made the offensive rebounds even more impressive was the fact Rougeau did them right in front of Nevill, a potential NBA lottery pick who had had his way with the Rebels in the first two meetings when he averaged 24 points and five rebounds. However, UNLV's swarming defense limited the big Aussie to just 15 points this time around.

"I personally couldn't get a body on him," Nevill, who towered over Rougeau with a seven-inch height advantage, said. "He had a nice running start to get those rebounds and I just wasn't able to hit him and cut him out, especially at the end of the game. He got them those extra possessions at the end of the game and that was crucial for their win."

The Rebels (25-7) only have about 17 hours to rest up for today's title game against old nemesis BYU (27-6), a 63-54 winner over San Diego State in the opener. The two teams traded blowout wins on their home floors during the season but UNLV defeated the Cougars, 78-70, in last year's title game and has won 23 straight against MWC foes at the Thomas & Mack Center.

"We're ready for a battle," Terry said. "Our first two games so far have been long, hard-fought games. We're expecting nothing but the best from BYU. We know they're going to have a lot of emotion and fire."

The winner gets the conference's automatic NCAA Tournament bid although both teams are projected to already to set to receive invitations to March Madness on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.

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