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UNLV earns first NCAA Tournament win in 16 years

Mar 17, 2007 - 12:59 AM CHICAGO (Ticker) -- Nevada-Las Vegas tasted victory in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the Jerry Tarkanian era.

Wendell White scored 14 of his 19 points in the second half, including the go-ahead basket with 1:11 left, to lead the seventh-seeded Runnin' Rebels to a 67-63 victory over 10th-seeded Georgia Tech in a Midwest Region game.

UNLV (29-6) will meet second-seeded Wisconsin in the second round on Sunday.

The Runnin' Rebels last appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 2000, losing in the first round to Tulsa. They had not won a game in this tournament since making an undefeated run to the Final Four in 1991. Then the coach was Tarkanian and the team featured Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony and Anderson Hunt.

But Lon Kruger, UNLV's current coach, has plenty of experience in this event. He is one of just five coaches in history to take four different schools to the NCAA Tournament, guiding Kansas State, Illinois and Florida. The other coaches with NCAA appearances with four schools are Eddie Sutton, Lefty Driesell, Rick Pitino and Jim Harrick.

"It was a very, very tough game," Kruger said. "I'm proud of our guys. We hung in there. It could have gone either way. We made the plays down the stretch to get the win."

UNLV led by as many as 14 points in the first half, but Georgia Tech (20-12) rallied and took its first lead of the game, 58-57, after Anthony Morrow hit a pair of free throws with 3:32 left.

White converted a layup to put the Runnin' Rebels back in front, 59-58, with 2:27 remaining.

Jeremis Smith then made 1-of-2 free throws with 2:08 remaining to tie the game.

But UNLV took the lead for good when White powered inside for a layup while being fouled by Alade Aminu with 1:11 left. White missed the free throw.

After strong defensive play by Jo'Van "Wink" Adams forced a five-second call against Georgia Tech freshman Javaris Crittenton, Gaston Essengue made a pair of free throws to increase the advantage to 63-59 with 36.6 seconds remaining.

"I didn't expect to stay that close to him because Javaris is a shifty guy," Adams said. "But I knew my team needed a stop and I just stayed in front of him. I raced out of my way trying to defend on that possession and I was able to get the five-count."

Zach Peacock scored a layup to pull the Yellow Jackets within 63-61 with 25 seconds left.

Michael Umeh made three free throws and Kevin Kruger, the son of Lon Kruger, added one in the final 23 seconds to seal the win for the Mountain West Conference champions.

"This was a great experience for us," said White, who was 8-of-12 from the field and added eight rebounds. "We were just aggressive throughout and hit the boards hard."

"He just plays hard," Smith said of White. "When he shot the ball, he always followed his shot. He is righthanded but he dribbled with his left and shot with his right. That made it a little difficult to determine which way to push him."

Umeh finished with 19 points, including four 3-pointers.

Georgia Tech's freshman tandem of Crittenton and Thaddeus Young may have experienced NCAA Tournament stage fright. They combined to make just 7-of-23 shots for 16 points. Each averaged more than 14 points this season.

"They just wanted it more," said Young, who made just 3-of-12 shots. "This is probably the worst experience ever. My first NCAA (Tournament) and I didn't think it would be like this."

Crittenton scored all eight of his points in the second half.

Morrow and Aminu scored 11 points apiece for the Yellow Jackets, who were selected as an at-large team from the Atlantic Coast Conference. They lost in the ACC tournament quarterfinals to Wake Forest.

UNLV made 5-of-12 shots from the arc, including three by Umeh, and raced to a 19-8 lead in the first 10:03.

A dunk by White with 3:25 left in the first half gave the Runnin' Rebels their biggest lead at 29-15.

Georgia Tech went on an 11-2 run as Peacock made a jumper and a layup and Aminu converted a three-point play. Umeh hit a pair of free throws with 21 seconds left to give UNLV a 33-26 halftime advantage.

A 3-pointer by Morrow tied the game, 40-40, with 15:54 left.