LAS VEGAS -- UNLV nearly let a big lead fritter away against Louisville.
Oscar Bellfield scored 17 points, Tre'Von Willis added 16 and the Runnin' Rebels held on for a 76-71 win over the No. 16 Cardinals on Saturday, a game the Mountain West upstarts led by 19 points in the second half.
The Cardinals (4-1) used a 30-11 run to overcome the 53-34 deficit with 14:05 remaining, tying the score at 64 on Rakeem Buckles' basket with 4:24 left. Bellfield answered with six straight points, and the Runnin' Rebels (5-0) managed to hang on in a game they never trailed.
"Oscar was great," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "He kept battling."
"That was a game that showed a lot about our team," Kruger said. "You see a lot of pressure from (Rick) Pitino teams. ... Our team has been very unselfish. Our depth is huge -- it has already paid us dividends."
The Cardinals were coming off a four-game sweep in the Hall of Fame showcase, including a 96-66 rout of Arkansas. But they were unimpressive in a 69-56 win over East Tennessee State and a 90-81 victory over Morgan State, and were stung again by the Runnin' Rebels.
UNLV went into Freedom Hall and won 56-55 last season. Before that, Louisville had won four straight in the series dating to 1993.
"It's not a bad loss," Pitino said. "It's not surprising when you play a road game like this, this early in the season. It's a difficult place to play. We knew it would be a tough game, but we knew it would make us a better team in the end."
Darris Santee added 13 points and a key block in the final minute for UNLV, which led 40-30 at halftime. Derrick Jasper added 12 points and Chace Stanback finished with nine rebounds and two blocked shots.
The Cardinals tied the score at 20 on Sosa's lay-up with 9:30 left, but the Rebels shot 56 percent from the field (15 of 27) over the first 20 minutes and led 38-27 following Willis' free throw with 2:24 remaining.
Bellfield scored nine points and Willis had eight during the first half.
"They threw a big run at us. We took the hit, but we got up and fought back," Willis said. "We share the ball -- we are an unselfish team. We ground it out at the end of the game. It shows our character, it shows how much fight we have in us."
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