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UNLV hoops notebook: Kruger’s words spark halftime turnaround

UNLV vs. Fresno State

UNLV's Tre'von Willis  goes up for a jump shot Wednesday night as the Rebels take on the Fresno State Bulldogs at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

FRESNO STATE POSTGAME: Santee sets 'em up, Willis knocks 'em down

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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech come to you from Fresno, where UNLV downed Fresno State on Wednesday night, 82-76, behind big performances from Darris Santee and Tre'Von Willis. Santee scored 21 points and helped provide inside-outside offensive balance for the Rebels, while Willis continued to establish himself as the driving vocal force Lon Kruger's club needs on the floor.

FRESNO – For at least the second time this season, UNLV coach Lon Kruger did not mince his words to his players at halftime Wednesday night at the Save Mart Center.

The Rebels led Fresno State, against whom Oregon State ended a 25-game losing streak Sunday, by only a 32-31 margin at the intermission.

“It was probably one of the tougher ones,” said senior swingman Rene Rougeau. “That’s who it has to be, especially on the road. I wouldn’t expect anything different from him.

“That’s what we needed, him getting all up in us. Basically, he gave us a good, fired-up rally-pep talk that got us going. We still struggled … but we kind of pulled it together at the end.”

Rougeau said he and his teammates felt they could have played much better in their 82-76 victory over Fresno State.

“We have to look within ourselves,” he said, “take a good look in the mirror and see what we want to do.”

Key stretch

Fresno State had just taken a 65-64 lead, on a Paul George layup, with six minutes, 32 seconds left when the lead changed hands for a 10th and final time.

UNLV freshman guard Oscar Bellfield fouled Nedeljko Golubovic, the fomer Findlay College Prep forward, and Golubovic missed the first of a one-and-one free-throw situation.

Rebels junior center Darris Santee yanked down the rebound and was fouled, but officials conferred with a courtside television monitor for a minute or two to view a replay of the situation.

They confirmed Golubovic had fouled Santee, and Santee sank both free throws for a 66-65 edge.

Then George threw a pass high over the head of teammate Brian Seals, and Rougeau converted a fastbreak layup to make it 68-65.

Then freshman guard Bryce Cartwright turned it over, Adams appeared to get raked over his face by Sylvester Seay and Adams hit both free throws to give UNLV some space.

“We’re still trying to get our chemistry down,” Adams said. “We’re still trying to get a lot of things down. Fortunately, we’re pulling off these wins, hitting just enough shots.

“We want to play (tight) defense for 40 minutes, limit mistakes, get extra possessions and rebounds. We want to do everything a notch better. Once we do that, we’ll be better off as a team.”

Tough touch

Adams came into the game in a 5-for-25 shooting slump, in losses to California on Friday and Cincinnati on Saturday.

Wednesday, he went 5-for-15 from the field. He missed all four 3-point shots he attempted.

Still, he worked his way to the line, where he canned seven of nine free throws. He had seven defensive rebounds, three assists and a steal, but he turned it over four times.

The rest of UNLV’s players had four total turnovers.

“Tonight I was aggressive to the basket,” he said. “Usually, the game comes to be by getting to the basket, getting free throws and knocking down jumpers.”

Kruger said it’s coming around for Adams, who has spent an abundance of extra time this week on after-practice shooting.

“It’s nice to see him be more aggressive,” Kruger said. “A couple times he attacked the rim. He had a couple good looks that didn’t quite go, but he shot them well. He stepped into them. He’ll be fine.”

To the point

What appeared to be sophomore Tre’Von Willis’s to lose in the preseason now, actually, appears to be his to lose.

When the Rebels left for a six-game tour of Australia, much was made how it would be a perfect way for Willis, a transfer from Memphis, to ease into his role as UNLV’s starting point guard.

However, the gig went to freshman Oscar Bellfield for the first three games of the season.

Five games ago, Kruger switched to Willis.

“I thought he played with good poise and composure,” Kruger said of Willis late Wednesday night. “He didn’t try to do too much. I thought he generally played as he has been playing, that’s making pretty good plays.

“He’s a big-time competitor. As he gets more and more comfortable in his role, we’ll see more of that. There aren’t a lot of guys talking, but he’s one who can (provide leadership) by being vocal as well as by example.”

Free throws

Willis said his slightly separated right shoulder felt at about “80 percent” after the victory over Fresno State. He had upgraded it to 82 percent since getting a cortisone injection after Saturday’s defeat to Cincinnati. He said it had been at about 65 percent a week and a half ago … it’s been a tough stretch for sophomore guard Kendall Wallace. He hit a 3-pointer from the left side to give UNLV a 10-6 lead. About four minutes later, he air-balled a 17-foot shot from the left side. He did not play in the second half … senior power forward Mo Rutledge had two baskets for the first time in five games … UNLV outscored Fresno State in the paint, 26-14 … the Rebels play at rival UNR on Saturday night, where UNLV has split its past eight games since Jerry Tarkanian last visited Reno and pasted the Pack by 50 points.

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