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Northridge Hangs In for a Half, Folds, 80-56 : Basketball: Matadors go cold after intermission and fall to UNLV under a barrage of uncontested dunks.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

No, this was not the Nevada Las Vegas of Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon, as evidenced Saturday night by its sloppy first half against Cal State Northridge at the Thomas & Mack Center.

But it was still plenty good enough to handle the overmatched Matadors, 80-56, before a crowd of 7,781 that was quiet at first but raucous during a second-half surge when the Runnin’ Rebels buried Northridge with uncontested dunks on four consecutive trips down the court.

The Matadors gave UNLV a tough game in the first half, leading most of the way. In the second half, Northridge’s shooting went cold and the Rebels pulled away.

The Matadors shot 25% from the field in the second half, 32% for the game. They were three of 16 from three-point range.

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“They turned up the pressure and basically we folded,” said Northridge point guard Trenton Cross, who shot one of 10 from the field. “We went away from what we were doing in the first half.”

Perhaps the brightest spot for Northridge, which has no players taller than 6 feet 7, was that the team showed it may have an inside threat after all. Junior college transfer Damion Morbley scored 23.

“I thought we should have gotten the ball inside [to Morbley] more often,” Northridge Coach Pete Cassidy said. “There are still a lot of new faces out there, and they’re trying to get used to each other.”

From the opening moments of the game--when UNLV missed an alley-oop attempt at one end and Morbley converted at the other to give Northridge a 2-0 lead--it looked as if the Matadors, playing a nonconference opener, would at least put up a good fight.

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Morbley scored his team’s first nine points and 17 points in the first half, during which Northridge led most of the way despite shooting only 39% from the field.

The Matadors, who figure to be seriously outsized against most opponents, at first held their own against UNLV’s inside game.

Damian Smith, one of UNLV’s best outside shooters, was out because of an injured right knee. That allowed the Matadors to keep more defenders under the basket, where they needed all the help they could muster. UNLV still had more offensive rebounds (seven) than Northridge had defensive rebounds (six) in the first half.

Despite it all, the Matadors led by nine after Ruben Oronoz made a reverse layup with 9:55 to go in the half. But UNLV scored nine consecutive points and tied the score, 27-27, when Jermaine Smith stopped in the lane and hit a 10-foot jumper. He drew a foul and converted the three-point play.

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The game see-sawed the rest of the half, with UNLV taking a 38-36 lead at the intermission.

The Matadors began the second half shooting even worse than they had in the first, and turning the ball over, too.

Northridge missed wide-open shots while UNLV slowly stretched the lead, hitting double figures, 54-44, after Clayton Johnson’s jumper with 10:22 left. The Rebels led, 59-44, after Smith’s three-point basket less than a minute later.

The play that signaled to UNLV fans the game was over was Johnson’s steal and reverse dunk that gave the Rebels a 61-45 lead with 7:25 to play.

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The next three UNLV trips down the floor ended with similar dunks, each one raising the decibel level.

Cassidy had mixed feelings evaluating his team’s opener.

“I’ll take the first half,” he said. “But that’s all I’ll take.”


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