Notebook: Kruger impressed by Miller’s young Wildcats

Williams & Co. show Arizona’s potential under first-year coach

UNLV vs. Arizona

Arizona's Nic Wise (13) drives past the defense of the UNLV's Justin Hawkins (31) during the first half of Wednesday's game in Tucson. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

ARIZONA POSTGAME: Not a beauty contest

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Ryan Greene breaks down the key points from UNLV's 74-72 squeaker in double overtime on Wednesday night at Arizona, led by Tre'Von Willis's 25 points and late-game gusto. Plus, a preview of Friday's Rebel Room podcast, featuring a special guest.

TUCSON, Ariz. — Without much depth and a roster containing just one senior and one junior, Arizona has hung in there with everyone it's played this season.

Add UNLV to that list, following Wednesday's 74-72 triumph in double overtime by the No. 24 Rebels in the McKale Center.

Arizona is now 3-3 following a rough six-game stretch to open the season, including losses in Maui over the Thanksgiving holiday to Wisconsin and Vanderbilt.

The Wildcats, under first-year coach Sean Miller, now travel to face Oklahoma on Sunday. They still play at San Diego State and at home against North Carolina State and Brigham Young before Pac-10 competition begins.

In the grand scheme of things, UNLV coach Lon Kruger expects things to only get better for Miller.

Oddly enough, Miller's collegiate playing career at Pitt ended in 1992 with an NCAA Tournament loss to Kruger's Florida club.

"It's amazing what he's done," Kruger said of Miller, who came to Tucson following a successful run at Xavier. "It's a young group, they obviously like what Sean's doing, because they play with great energy, they play with great enthusiasm, they've totally bought in and that's a real credit to coach Miller and his staff, because it's not always easy to do that. I really like their team and really like how quickly Sean has brought them along."

Kruger was especially impressed by freshman forward Derrick Williams, who was the first big man to truly abuse UNLV inside this season.

On a night where neither team shot the ball particularly well, the 6-foot-8 La Mirada, Calif., native was 10-of-15 from the floor, finishing with a game-high 28 points.

"He's a monster," Kruger added. "Every time it seemed like we needed a stop, he'd get an and-one inside. I like their team. They've got a lot of guys. Maybe not as deep at this point, as you'd expect first year in the program, but they've got a good young group there to build with."

Fellow freshman Lamont Jones had nine points and five rebounds off the bench, while the third member of Miller's impressive inaugural recruiting class, forward Solomon Hill, struggled offensively, going 0-for-5 from the floor, but he did add seven boards and three assists.

It all adds up to a team that could find a nice rhythm come early January in Pac-10 play, as the league is pretty down this season.

Inside the numbers

• UNLV hit 27 of 68 field goal attempts. The 39.7 shooting percentage was UNLV's lowest this season.

• Sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield, who entered the game shooting 46.3 percent from the floor, was 2-of-14, including a 1-of-7 showing from 3-point range. He did have five assists and four rebounds, however, before fouling out late.

• In their first collegiate road game, freshman guards Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins saw their minutes take a slight dip. Marshall, who averaged 17.6 minutes per game in UNLV's first five contests, played nine minutes, while Hawkins, averaging 17.6, as well, coming in, was on the floor for eight. Marshall, however, made several key defensive hustle plays, especially in the first half.

• Arizona's Nic Wise played steady for much of the night as a floor general, but for the second consecutive year, struggled to score from the field against UNLV. After going 4-of-12 in last year's loss at the Thomas & Mack Center, he was 3-of-13 on Wednesday, including going 1-of-8 from deep. He did, however go 12-of-12 from the free throw line, finishing iwth 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

• The rebounding battle was dead even, with each team taking down nine offensive boards, 32 defensive caroms and 41 rebounds combined. Arizona's Jamelle Horne had a game-high 10.

• 3-point shooting on both sides was rather ugly, with UNLV hitting on five of its 26 attempts (19.2 percent), while Arizona was 4-of-22 (18.2).

Next up

UNLV faces 4-3 Santa Clara on Saturday night in the second leg of the Rebels' four-game stretch away from the confines of the Mack.

That game will tip at 7 p.m. Following that tilt, the Rebels are off for a full week before facing Kansas State at the Orleans Arena on Dec. 12 in what is sure to be a huge game for Lon Kruger and his staff, as the ties to the KSU program go way back.

But first is Santa Clara, and the Broncos so far have struggled to find consistency this season under second-year coach Kerry Keating.

Following back-to-back home wins to open the campaign, Santa Clara was blown out in three straight outings, first at San Diego State (86-53), then at Pacific (84-57) and finally at home against Northern Arizona (88-72).

Since then, the Broncos have handled Fresno State back at home, then won away from home for the first time at UC-Santa Barbara on Tuesday night, 79-68.

A quick glance at the stat sheet suggests that sharing the ball might be part of the problem, as sophomore guard Kevin Foster leads the team in field goal attempts by a landslide, attempting 18.5 shots per game. He's only hitting 32.4 percent of them, but still leads the team with a 19.8 point average. Of those shot attempts, 11.8 per game are from long range.

UNLV took down Santa Clara last December at the Mack, 78-66.

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  1. Hey Ryan, I know that this was the last game of the four the home-and-home series with Arizona (which ended up 2-2). Do you know if it is planning on being extended?

  2. You know, Kruger was asked that after the game, and I have a feeling he'd like to on his side of it. Even though Arizona's going to be much improved as the years go on here under Miller, I think Lon really likes what his team got out of the experience of this game. He's been around the game long enough to know there's no shame in losing a game in December to a top-25 program. That said, I'd say it's pretty likely the series will be extended, much like the Louisville deal was.