Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008 | 9:06 p.m.
Final, UNLV wins 82-76x
FRESNO -- In a homecoming appearance, UNLV sophomore guard Tre'Von Willis sparked his team in the second half Wednesday night, leading the Rebels to an 82-76 road victory at Fresno State. It snapped a two-game losing skid leftover from last weekend, and improved Lon Kruger's club to 6-2 on the season.
Willis finished with 18 points, including several big buckets in the second half to negate FSU's youth-infused push. He came up big all over the place late in the game on both ends of the floor, as he led the Rebels in late charges against a depleted Bulldogs frontcourt. UNLV sealed the victory with a slew of late free throws.
UNLV was carried early on offensively by Darris Santee, as the junior forward scored 14 of his career-high 21 points before the break. While Wink Adams didn't fully bust out of his recent shooting slump, he was stellar from the line in the second half en route to finishing with 17 points.
Fresno State's Paul George led all scorers with 24 points, hitting a handful of outside jumpers in the second half which helped the Bulldogs keep pace until late.
UNLV is back in action Saturday at Reno with a 7:30 p.m. tip.
For full postgame coverage, including stories, photos, stats and The Rebel Room: Postgame Edition, stay tuned to www.lasvegassun.com/rebels.
3:05, second half, UNLV leads 74-70
FRESNO -- Fresno State's top two big men -- Ned Golubovic and Sylvester Seay -- each fouled out within the past few minutes, and UNLV is beginning to tighten up from the free throw line as it carries a 74-70 edge into the final mintues over FSU.
Wink Adams hit four straight tries after missing his first of the night, then fed Darris Santee to bump the junior big man's career-high point total to 21 and counting.
The Rebels aren't pulling away quite yet, though, as FSU's young guys continue to hit big shots. Paul George just hit a three from the top of the key off a dish from Dwight O'Neil to give him a team-high 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting.
UNLV is getting steady at the free throw line just in time now. They're in the double bonus from here on out, and expect the likes of Adams and Willis to charge hard at a depleted Fresno State frontcourt.
7:44, second half, UNLV leads 64-60
FRESNO -- Just when Fresno State made its push with a Myles Green 3-pointer off the bench, UNLV responded. Then it did the same following a Paul George three-point play. And with big plays of their own, the Rebels are staying ahead of Fresno State late in the Save Mart Center.
After Green's trey, Mo Rutledge scored his first points of the game on a straight-away three. That quieted the crowd, and helped incite a pair of FSU turnovers. Off of one of them, Tre'Von Willis completed his second old-fashioned 3-point play of the night. He then hit a bank shot from the right block off of another Fresno State and-one completion.
Willis and Darris Santee each have 17 points, while Willis again has the look he carried late in Saturday's game against Cincinnati -- He's trying to put his stamp on it and close it out. The 17 points have come off of 7-of-16 shooting, as he's simply continued to come harder and harder at the Fresno State defense.
Now UNLV needs someone to step up late alongside him. Joe Darger might be a decent candidate. He's been beyond quiet tonight.
11:35, second half, UNLV leads 53-50
FRESNO -- For a bit, Tre'Von Willis was trading blows in the form of jumpers with older brother Dwight O'Neil. Then Willis head to the bench for a breather, and Wink Adams picked up the slack. The UNLV senior's answered a pair of O'Neil jumpers with tough drives and finishes at the rack, as UNLV leads 53-50 with 11:35 to play in Fresno.
Both Willis and Darris Santee are getting some rest as UNLV holds the slim edge against a Fresno team which, energy-wise, appears to be fading a tad.
Brice Massamba took a charge from 5-foot-11, 160-pound FSU freshman guard Bryce Cartwright going into the media timeout. It was a matchup in which Massamba holds probably a 70- to 80-pound edge. The way Massamba takes some of these charges is tough to believe.
So far, UNLV is 24-of-50 from the floor and the shot selection has been solid. That was a big concern following last weekend.
15:51, second half, Fresno State leads 42-41
FRESNO -- Paul George continued his solid first half with seven points to start off the second for the Bulldogs, but Tre'Von Willis, in his homecoming appearance, is taking the reigns for UNLV. He's playing in-your-face defense to start the second half, despite having two fouls to his credit, and now has 10 points.
First, he slashed to the left and floated a shot off the backboard with his right hand while getting fouled. He hit the ensuing free throw, then buried a 3-pointer which helped erase a quick five-point Fresno State lead.
His free throw was only the second UNLV has made tonight, as the Rebels are 2-of-6 from the stripe. Remember those points left on the floor if this one's close later on, which it looks like it might be.
Halftime, UNLV leads 32-31
FRESNO -- Thanks to a layup by Brice Massamba off of a wrap-around pass from Oscar Bellfield, UNLV leads Fresno State at halftime in the Valley, 32-31.
Wink Adams stepped up late in the first half to help UNLV weather the storm put on by the Bulldogs corps of young guards. The Rebels senior broke out of his recent shooting slump with just over four minutes to go in the opening stanza. First, he hit his signature stop-on-a-dime mid-range jumper from the free throw line. Then, off of a defensive board, he showed some confidence in going hard at a Bulldog defender on a coast-to-coast layup. He hit another jumper moments later, but was called for a push-off.
Fresno's Mychal Ladd led the Bulldogs with 10 points off the bench in the first half. He'd started all of Fresno's games before tonight at the point, and whether that got him upset or not is unknown. But his play has shown that he's got a spark.
Some other numbers of note from the first half ...
-Darris Santee - surprise! - led all scorers with 14. He's 7-of-9 from the floor, and 0-for-2 from the line. Those were UNLV's only free throw attempts of the first half. He also has three boards.
-Tre'Von Willis played 11 minutes in the first half of his homecoming appearance, scoring four points on 2-of-5 shooting. He did, however, pick up two personal fouls. Lon Kruger might be wanting Tre' to avoid the foul trouble which plagued him Saturday against Cincy. Oscar Bellfield played 13 minutes at the point, going scoreless with three boards and two assists to his credit.
-Fresno is 12-of-24 from the floor. This was mostly done without the services of arguably their best player - Sylvester Seay. The Arizona State transfer picked up two quick fouls and only played five minutes. Beware of that name after the break.
Again, not a very intimidating road atmosphere. Heck, there's more Fresno State 2008 NCAA Champion baseball gear in sight than Bulldog hoops gear. A very casual crowd, and if UNLV stays the course, depth and experience should ultimately win out. They've got tangible proof of this being true on the road -- Just look at last Monday.
6:51, first half, game tied 22-22
FRESNO -- In one way, the Rebels' second road game of the season is looking a lot like the first -- Opposing underclassmen are taking some control early and keeping things close.
It was youngsters who helped UTEP to 13-point first half lead over UNLV a week ago before the Rebels' experience took over. Tonight, UNLV might have to do the same, as Mychal Ladd came off the bench and has ignited the Bulldogs with seven points on 3-of-3 shooting. He hit a long trey and finished two impressive drives to the hoop. Fellow frosh Paul George also has four points. What's keeping UNLV close, again, is Santee, who hit a turnaround bank shot in the lane for his 11th and 12th points of the night.
Boy, what would the odds have been on Santee being the first player to double figures tonight?
So far, the Rebels are 10-of-21 from the floor, while FSU is 9-of-16. UNLV is 2-of-7 from deep.
11:59, first half, UNLV leads 14-11
FRESNO -- Darris Santee put on a nifty up-and-under move for his fourth bucket of the game, and the experimental Rebels are staying ahead of Fresno State, 14-11.
Both teams are going to their benches early, with Lon Kruger having already sat each o his five starters for a small period of time, and his backups have come in to produce. Kendall Wallace was the first to do so with a 3-pointer.
As for Fresno State's bench, nothing special has popped up so far, as Kruger might be getting his starters ready for a big second-half push.
15:51, first half, UNLV leads 7-6
FRESNO -- Fresno State's initial surge out of the gates gave the Bulldogs a brief three-point lead, but the Rebels responded in pretty steady fashion, drawing a pair of calls on the defensive end, then going inside to Darris Santee to grab a 7-6 edge.
Joe Darger opened UNLV's scoring with a three-ball from the right wing, and Santee has a pair of nice drop-ins inside off of feeds from Rene Rougeau and Tre'Von Willis. As for Wink Adams, the shooting slump might take a few minutes to come out of. He missed a three from straight on, and had a runner blocked by Sylvester Seay.
Lon Kruger's going to his bench early, pulling Kendall Wallace and Oscar Bellfield into the game out of the first timeout. As for Fresno State, Steve Cleveland is sticking with Bryce Cartwright, a true frosh, at point guard. He replaces another freshman, Mychal Ladd, who had been starting there so far this season and averaging just under 12 points per game. This is Cartwright's first career starting nod.
FRESNO -- As expected, sophomore guard Tre'Von Willis has been a pretty popular guy so far tonight. During early warmups here at the Save Mart Center, a few folks have mingled around the baseline to grab his attention and greet him with a handshake in his return to Fresno, where he starred just a few years ago at Washington Union High. One of those he man-hugged with was big bro Dwight O'Neil, a senior guard for the host Bulldogs.
But give Willis some credit, he has yet to tip anyone that toothy grin of his. The exchanges have been quick and to the point. He's got the look of this being a business trip, and that alone. He was the same way a couple of hours ago while wandering the halls of the team hotel. Wink Adams wasn't far behind him, heading to the elevator already in full uniform.
That's probably a welcomed sign for Lon Kruger and his staff, as their still-gelling team tries to get back on track with tonight's 7 p.m. tip-off against the 'Dawgs. Following a 5-0 start, UNLV, as you probably remember, dropped a pair over the weekend to California and Cincinnati while playing host to the Global Sports Classic.
But the road, albeit only one trip, has been kind to the Rebels so far. They put up a come-from-behind 80-67 victory at UTEP last Monday, and it's widely known that teams still looking for steady chemistry tend to bond best while on the road.
The Save Mart is a pretty nice looking yard. An UGE (so big it ate the 'H') Bulldog statue in the front entrance and pretty nice-looking suites. Any Division-I club would be lucky to call this place home. Though, given the fact that maybe 500 people are in seats with 30 minutes to go before tip, it doesn't look to be all that intimidating. It's a young, not-so-deep Fresno State team which UNLV could wind up healing itself pretty well against.
Now onto tonight's three big predictions ...
1) Picks to click ... Miech is not only going with Joe Darger, who hit six 3-pointers against Cincy on Saturday, but is predicting that the 6-foot-7 senior sniper tops his career-high of 23 points. That's gutsy. Me? Not so much. I'm going with René Rougeau. He's been filling up his stat lines pretty well this season despite shooting inconsistently. Tonight, against an inexperienced foe, he adds about 15 points to that lofty stat package and carries the Rebels.
2) There won't be a happier camper in the seats than Tark. Again, not much of a stretch. The former Rebels coach and Bulldogs player/coach will be in attendance tonight. He's sure to get a kick out of this, and I'm sure will talk about it in Shark Bytes in the near future.
3) UNLV 77, Fresno State 70 I bet the 'Dawgs will keep it closer and more interesting than many predict, but depth pays off in the end and UNLV gets off the skids.
Talk to you after tip-off.