Thursday, Dec. 4, 2008 | 2:10 a.m.
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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 -- Darris Santee doesn't say much, and even when he produces at a prolific rate on the court, he doesn't indicate it with even a moderate amount of emotion.
When the UNLV junior center is playing a more aggressive game than usual, about the only way to notice it might be on the stat sheet.
Such was the case Wednesday night, as the Rebels stayed perfect on the road and improved to 6-2 overall with an 82-76 win over Fresno State.
Santee put together his best offensive game to date as a Rebel, finishing with a team-high 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting. He also had five rebounds and an assist.
The assist came on a patience-laden, well-executed possession late in the game in which the Bulldogs had to respect UNLV's ability to score inside and out. That hasn't been the case for most foes this season, and the Rebels caught a glimpse of just how effective they can be offensively.
"I felt there was a lot more balance, and me being an inside presence helped us out a lot," Santee stood tall and said afterward. "By watching film, coach didn't want us to shoot as many threes as we've been shooting. He'd been preaching on getting the ball down low more, and the post players being aggressive and scoring the ball down low more."
UNLV still wound up taking 17 3-point attempts, which is about par with what the Rebels have hoisted up this season on a per-game basis. But the amount of rushed and obstructed attempts were kept to a minimum with the Bulldogs forced to pay attention down low to Santee and Brice Massamba.
Massamba had a nice bucket off an Oscar Bellfield dish late in the first half, plus he took a big second half charge from Bryce Cartwright during his nine minutes of run. But Santee was the one finishing off possessions on a regular basis, especially early in the game when Tre'Von Willis and Wink Adams were still finding a groove en route to their combined 35 points.
Santee entered the game averaging seven points per contest, but had that number beat less than seven minutes into the game. His previous high point total this year was just nine.
"We really needed that, because we had some other guys who didn't get out of the gates very quickly," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "And Darris stepping in there and contributing on the offensive end was a nice plus."
Essentially, Santee set 'em up, while the guards knocked 'em down. His penchant for rough-housing inside helped open things up later in the game for Adams and Willis to penetrate the paint even more.
Less than a minute into the second half, he drew the third foul of the game on FSU forward Sylvester Seay, who played only five minutes in the first half with two infractions to his credit. He'd ultimately foul out having played just 14 minutes. He went to the line later in the half after earning a foul call against Ned Gulobovic -- the fifth and final foul for the Findlay Prep product.
"Tonight we tried to get the ball as much as we could, and tonight he delivered," Adams said. "I think tonight we did a great job of taking our time and getting shots we wanted. Plus, we went down low and worked ourselves out. Whenever we can play games like that, it's better for the team."
Now the key will be doing so on a repeated basis.
Santee said after Wednesday's game that he knows nothing yet of UNR's Luke Babbitt, who he'll face Saturday night when the Rebels tip off against the Wolf Pack up in Reno at 7:30 p.m. But he's sure to see plenty of the freshman standout on film over the next couple of days.
So far, Babbitt's lived up to the McDonald's All-American tag he earned a year ago, averaging team-highs in points (15.3) and rebounds (7.8) per game for his 3-3 club.
"He has the tools, he's athletic, he's just got to get in a comfortable mode out there," Willis said. "If I could say something to help him score 21 every night, I'm gonna do that."