Road warriors: No. 24 UNLV squeaks by Santa Clara, 66-63

Willis again sparks second half comeback, Shaw shuts the door on Broncos

UNLV vs. Santa Clara

UNLV's Tre'von Willis, right, puts pressure on Santa Clara's Robert Smith during a Dec. 5 game at Santa Clara. Launch slideshow »

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The Rebel Room

Insight from the AP voter who has UNLV at No. 11

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Ryan Greene is joined for a special edition of The Rebel Room by Tom Keegan, who is the sports editor of the Journal-World in Lawrence, Kan. Why, you may ask? Well, Tom in his AP poll last weekend voted UNLV at No. 11, which was the highest nod the Rebels got following their victory over Louisville to improve to 5-0. Keegan explains why he voted UNLV so high, plus offers some insight into another program he knows well in Kansas State, who visits the Orleans Arena for a showdown with Lon Kruger's club next Saturday.

SANTA CLARA, Calif.— Yes, Tre'Von Willis did it again.

"It" would be carrying his team through a second-half comeback on the road following a sluggish start.

For the second time in four days, the UNLV junior guard flipped his inner switch after the intermission, helping improve the No. 24 Rebels to 7-0 on Saturday night in a 66-63 squeaker over Santa Clara.

But would he like to do it again?

"I don't like it at all," Willis said with a grin afterward. "Sitting on the bench the whole first half, that's very frustrating."

Willis picked up a foul just seven seconds into the game, when he was cited for grabbing a handful of an opponent's jersey on the defensive end.

He'd take a seat two minutes later, and shortly after later re-entering the game, Willis drew another whistle, this time being called for a block. After his second infraction, Willis stormed towards the bench, visibly suppressing frustration.

He'd watch the final 10:53 of the first half from the sideline, in all of its ugliness.

The Rebels went to the break down by eight following an unexpected 3-point play from Marc Trasolini in the closing seconds.

UNLV had been called for 15 fouls and was outrebounded 24-11 in the game's first 20 minutes. The only thing keeping the Rebels within range seemed to be the Broncos' 11 turnovers, stemming from Santa Clara's inexperience across the board. Kerry Keating's club was playing without sophomore guard Kevin Foster — the team's leading scorer — who broke his foot late in a victory at UC-Santa Barbara on Tuesday.

"(Coach Lon Kruger) didn't read off of the stat sheet — He had it basically memorized," junior guard Derrick Jasper said. "We were not rebounding at all and we weren't communicating on defense."

Enter Willis.

At Arizona on Wednesday, he scored 23 of his team-high 25 points in the second half and two overtime periods in a 74-72 win.

In a similar better-late-than-never showing, Willis scored all 14 of his points in the second half on Saturday night. He also finished the game with five assists, no turnovers and two steals after playing only four minutes in the first half.

"Especially with how the game was going, we weren't doing very well, doing what we wanted to do," Willis said. "We were letting them dictate the whole game. I was very frustrated. I had to sit on the bench; I couldn't help my team, so the second half, I wanted to come out, be aggressive and try to get us going a little bit."

Willis was the driving force right from go in the second stanza.

After hitting a jumper for the Rebels' first points of the second half, he helped his team capitalize on a momentary lapse in judgment by the Broncos (4-4).

Trasolini, who led all scorers with 22 points, threw down a vicious slam to put Santa Clara up 43-33 just minutes into the second half. But after doing a complete pull-up on the rim, a technical foul was called.

Willis responded by hitting one of two technical free throws, then scored on a tough layup inside on the ensuing possession.

After Brice Massamba added a layup off of a backdoor dish from Chace Stanback inside, Willis assisted Oscar Bellfield on a 3-pointer. Add two more free throws from Willis after stealing the ball on the defensive end, and a 10-0 run to pull UNLV even was completed.

"We always knew we could come back and win the game," Willis said. "We never think otherwise."

Despite the run early in the second half, UNLV never was able to pull away comfortably in the second half.

UNLV's recent offensive woes from long range didn't see a major upswing. Entering the game shooting 25.2 percent from 3-point land this season, the Rebels were 7-of-22, missing a handful of potential daggers late in the game.

On the other hand, Santa Clara, which took advantage of UNLV's first half foul troubles by going 15-of-19 from the line before halftime, was only 6-of-12 from the stripe out of the locker room.

Junior forward Matt Shaw ultimately sealed the deal for the Rebels. Motivated by splitting a pair of free throws in a key late-game trip to the line at Arizona on Wednesday, Shaw scored the Rebels' final four points of the game, going 4-of-4 on his charity tries.

"I was a little disappointed at Arizona because I missed one late that I felt could have sealed the game, so I've been putting a lot of free throws up in practice and doing my routine," Shaw said. "We're grateful that we won, but we realize we've got to come out with a lot more readiness.

"Like coach said today, we can play with anyone, but anybody can beat us as well."

The Rebels will now multitask rather than relax over the next six days in preparation for Saturday's contest at the Orleans Arena against Kansas State.

The team is off from practice duties for the next two days while preparing for this week's final exams.

Kruger will also more than likely make sure his team gets some serious study time in with Saturday's game tape.

UNLV's 7-0 record, which marks the program's best start since the 1990-91 season, could be very vulnerable to some future blemishes if the Rebels come out of the gates the same way they did in what had all the makings of a classic 'trap game.'

"We've got a lot of work to do, and this game's just a reminder of that," Kruger said. "We were fortunate to dodge a bullet tonight, and if we don't make progress, we won't be as fortunate the next time."

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  1. Ball is bouncing differently this season. Last year, those squeakers went the oppositions' way..

  2. Good news bad news. Nice to win but being outrebounded by 14 against Santa Clara? A bad team playing without their leading scorer and barely beating them is definitely a concern. We play like that against K State and we will get ripped. Also think that J hawk should be getting more minutes instead of Chop. Jones is such a liabilty on offense and he is not a lockdown defender. Hawkins can score and we need more weapons offensively. I also think Hawkins can play as good a d as Chop can. We are not going to survive in the top 25 for long if we play like this again.

  3. gumby you are WRONG!! (slightly)

    j hawk can play better defense than chop ;)

    just ask anthony marshall or elijah johnson what happened at last years AAU games in vegas. hawkins made a statement in both games, shutting both high level vegas prospects down.

    i agree 100% j hawk should be getting alot more minutes

  4. sportsguy, don't forget he did that with a hurt knee. He stated at the time he knew UNLV was recruiting both players and he wanted to show Rebel fans what they were getting. Now that is an attitude we can live with.

    Playing on the road is always a challenge, especially to the young players. The gym was real quiet to start the game and sometimes it is hard to play emotionally when it is so quiet. There are always a few games like that at the Mack each year. You can just feel that there is no electricity, no passion from the crowd and the team plays uninspired. I hope I am wrong, but we a chance for one of those games close to Christmas time.

    I think the team will be ready for K-State. The Orleans will be full and will be a great home court for us, AGAIN.

    Go Rebels, I don't care how you win SOME games, just keep winning and playing hard. No wait, just play hard and keep winning, there that is better.

  5. Hey Rebelfever2,
    the best game UNLV played alll last seaon came a few days before Christmas, on Decenmber 20th. The crowd was alive and well that game if I remember correctly.

  6. I think the difference maker in these games has to be the shot selection. Don't get me wrong, we have to shoot the three to see how it falling but there were many occasions where there were no rebounders set and we were chucking up the three.

    I think Jones is a great break sub but I'm not seeing the intensity increase but rather stay the same. The more experience that our freshmen receive the better. I can't agree more. We need real offensive as well as defensive players in and each game I think we will (hopefully) see less of Jones. But, Kruger sees the big picture so I'm sure he'll put in the right players.

    I'm appreciative for what Kruger has done for this program and anticipate the K State game to be an exciting one. Go Rebs!!!

  7. A road win is a road win. Basketball is not only about putting the ball in the hoop and Chop brings the intangibles. He is not shooting worse than anyone else on the team? As the season goes on AM and JH will get more of minutes but dont forget this team is young and Shaw, Jasper and Stanback are still working into form after being off for 1 year plus and this is the 1st time Jasper has been healthy in 2 or 3. These few days of practice will do them well and I think we will have a good showing against KSU.

    Side note I think Santa Clara played better with Kevin Foster being out. That kid was jacking up and missing 3's like he played for UNLV, 12 a game and hitting 3. He was shooting 35% from the field. With him out they moved the ball and got it down/better shots!

  8. This is a good sign: usually there's a garbage loss to a "Santa Barbara" early in the season.

  9. Glad to win last night but there is much to be concerned about. Something has to be done about the foul rate. To continually put your opponent on the line is asking for trouble, and conversely, what happened to attacking the basket? Too often they are settling for 3's. Need to attack the basket more and get to the line ourselves. It will be a long night against K-State if they don't improve and improve quickly. Definitely did not look like a top 25 team last night...

  10. You are probably right sportsguy. Hawkins I know certainly has the potential to be a much better defensive player. But I think more importantly this team needs some offensive firepower. Stanback, Jasper, and Marshall have been pretty tenative. Hawkins was very aggressive in the first couple of contests it would be a shame for him to loose confidence because Chop gets his minutes. Chop is a complete loss on the offensive end. Tre has been the only consistent offensive force. He needs help.

  11. Don't sweat, everything is just fine. This week was tough and we made it through unblemished. Everybody new it was gonna be a lackluster performance. We'll take our exams this week, recharge our batteries and be ready for K-State. Should handle them by double digits...top 10 anyone?? Refuse to loose!!!

  12. It is obvious most of you have never played basketball at a competitive level. Chop comes in, plays defense, moves the ball (doesn't jack up 3's early in the shot clock) and sets good screens (the Jasper alley-oop came off a mean back pick from Chop). Not saying he is a stud but the 10 minutes he gets are productive. His minutes will go down as the Freshmen get more comfortable but he is doing a good job so far as a sub and giving guys a quick breather! He is not causing us to lose any games so why are there so many posts about him. There is a reason that Kruger is a coach and we are not. I am going to go out on a limb an think he is doing what is best for the team to win and get better every game!

  13. WE the rebs could put a FULL game together we would have won both road games with ease. Again, what is up with the 3's? Take it to the hole!

  14. Chop is shooting .188

    Facts are facts. He doesn't come in to score points. His minutes will go down as the season progresses. If the Rebels are seriously slumping, or someone isn't doing their job, he's the guy Kruger will go to so they know they need to step their game up. He's the prototype "Most Inspirational Player"

  15. Just was looking at shooting percentages and thought this was interesting.

    Massamba is shooting 83.3% He doesn't take a lot of shots, but they are money in the bank.

  16. High-pressure defensive teams like the Rebels will naturally have more fouls called against them. I'll take that over soft 'D' any day.

    For those of you who say Justin should have more minutes: He has to earn them in practice first; which means he has to out-work Chop. Great learning lesson for the freshman.

  17. Massamba seems to have improved his post game quite a bit..he needs to get more touches down there..

  18. gray,

    hawk didnt do anything in practice to get less minutes these last two games except be a freshman.

    Kruger is playing chop alot more the last two games to take the pressure off marshall and hawkins. chop has experience playing in zona when he was at ASU.

    i bet as the year goes on and j hawk and marshall have more games under their belt they will get most of the minutes that chop currently owns. as stated above chop will be the guy right there ready to play when someone makes a stupid mistake and kruger needs to let them think about it.

  19. Rebelsfan11, you are right if you are talking about the Arizona game 12/20/09. That game was awesome. But on 12/23/09 we played Southern Utah. There was about 9,000 or so fans. I think officially it was listed at around 10,000, although I think that was a stretch. This was the game Wink got hurt and I think we weren't playing to well when that happened. The Rebels ended up winning by like 13 or so.

    All I am saying is that players have a hard time getting into games when the gyms are quiet and there is no electricity in the crowd. BUT, they won and that is all that matters. Keep getting healtier and better. It is hard to play at a high level every game especially when you are ranked and are the target of every team you face now. Everyone wants to beat ranked teams.

    Go Rebs, keep the target on your back and make it bigger and bigger.

  20. I was at the game saturday night. My analysis:

    No way this team is a top 20 club. And after seeing Louisville and Arizona get their butts kicked this week-end, those wins are not as good as they seemed at the time.
    The Rebs got outplayed by a mediocre Santa Clara team and were very lucky to win. From what I can see, we have 3 good players (Bellfield, Willis and Jasper) and two good role players (Wallace and Shaw). Stanback is awful- hard to see how this guy could have possibly been recruited to UCLA. No insided game, no strength, not much of a shooter. Nothing. As for Massamba and Santee- neither guy has any business being on the floor of a decent club. They bring nothing but 10 fouls.
    The two freshmen show potential- they should get better and better with more experience. But after watching this game in person, I think this year will end up like last year- good pre-season and a mediocre Conference record. Until they get a couple of big guys than can actually play- this team will struggle to be over .500 in conference play.

  21. The game was much closer then we all expected. I figured the Broncs would keep it close in the 1st half and then we would pull away for a 25 point win down the stretch. From here on out UNLV is going to get every teams best game each time they take the floor. The Reb's will never get any love from the national media so they need to play like the hunter rather then the hunted. Even if they were to run the table on their schedule I still don't see them cracking the top 15, in reality I don't think they will move much higher then they already are, they will get no love from anybody. One loss and this team is gone from the top 25. This team hasn't accomplished anything yet and that is the attitude they need to play with. It's nice to be ranked but in the grand scheme of things all they need to focus on is one game at a time, that is all they can control.

  22. I wish the Sun would save peoples "predicition" posts, good and bad. Then they could have an article at the end of the season where everyone who is wrong can eat crow and the people that are right win a gift certificate or something.

  23. yea he is saying how bad massamba is when he was the 3rd leading scorer in the game...hahahaha
    that guy needs to get taught somethin about rebel basketball

  24. i wish i didnt agree with rose1414.... just saw traces of last year in the santa clara game. Shooting too quickly... no rebounds... no assists... we should have won by 15 at least. Kansas State isnt going to be pretty.. hope i'm wrong and ill eat as much crow as i can hold down. go rebels

  25. @ Rose

    Stanback is the fourth leading scorer in California High School History, and led the state in scoring his senior year. I am not how many great NBA players have come out of California, but I bet it's more than 100. That says a lot about his scoring ability.

    He didn't play basketball last year because of his redshirt, and the season before he was on the bench for an incredibly talented and deep UCLA team. In other words he has not played competitive basketball since spring of 2007. We are only 7 games in, his scoring will come. IMO, we don't need him to score a lot. He is already averaging 6 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists a game. He also records at least a block and a couple of steals per game. He only needs to score a couple of points more per game...which I know he can do.

    Most of what Chace does goes unnoticed because he is not lighting it up on the offensive end. He does battle for rebounds and is long on defense.

    He is very athletic and time is his friend. Once he stops trying to force shots to appease people like you he will start scoring.

  26. @unlvrebels

    I think people ailed to realize we outscored SC by 11 in the second half. It just looked worse because the first half was so bad. If we had played the 1st half like the second we would have won by 15-20. This was not a bad game, but a bad half of basketball.

    Don't get me started on the whistle happy refs.

  27. Rebels #17 in the ESPN Coaches Poll!!!

    Ryan, will do, probably tonight after I get off work.

  28. i hear ya and agree 100%.... watched it on the fuzzy high school camera so maybe i (we) are overreacting. i guess my point was i saw a lot of bad habits from last year and tre isnt going to be able to save us in every game. cant figure out why the threes arent falling. they get good looks and usually have spacing... who knows its early and been a great season so far. sorry if im a wee skeptical.

  29. Winning on the road - especially in a gym like Santa Clara's - is big in college hoops. Style points are irrelevant. The W is all that matters.

    The thing I like best about this team are the quotes we're seeing from all of the players. With their attitudes, this team will continue to improve.

  30. I was actually there- they got clobbered on the boards. Stanback didn't do ANYTHING. Extremely passive. What he did in High School means squat. Alot of great high school ballers never make it at a higher level. Your point of his not having played in awhile carries some merit- but that should not affect aggressiveness and competitiveness.

    Rebelsfan11- been a fan long before you ever were around. Massamba had ONE board. Santee had ONE board. Sorry chief, but that will never get it done. And this was against a Santa Clara team that is not exactly filled with great athletes.

  31. Regardless of how poorly we played at Santa Clara, the main thing is that we came out with the win. It was a tiny little gym with maybe 4,000 people at the game, which can be a difficult venue for these guys to play at with where they are used to playing. Santa Clara is not a really a push-over, cupcake team. Like someone said above, they lost their leading scorer for the year (i.e. ball hog guard) and played much more together than they have all year.
    It was obvious to everyone that this was going to be a "trap game" for the Rebels coming off the big win in Arizona. Between Wednesday night and Saturday night, they had to travel days, a walkthrough and a real practice. Thats it! There will be a much more inspired, focused team on the court on Saturday with K-State coming in. Give the guys a break. They are still only 18, 19 and 20 year-olds. There will be some ups and down. The key is that, unlike last year, they find a way to win these games whereas last year's team didn't.
    I am still very encouraged by the improvement of our inside game this season. The rebounding wasn't nearly what it should be, but Shaw, Santee and Massamba are all contributing on some level. Even if they are just offering 5 fouls a game, just the fact that those fouls aren't coming as quickly and that they are in there battling and altering shows on defense is good enough. Our top 6 or 7 players are all guards... we don't need a dominant inside game. If you combine all 3 inside guys' stats together, we are getting roughly 18-20 points and 9-11 rebounds a game from our Center position. I will take that over what we had last year.
    And while some of the naysayers are continuing to say that it doesn't make a difference where we are ranked now, they are somewhat right. While it matters more how we finish the year, it sure helps being ranked with all of these bigtime recruits coming in on official visits. Any recognition on a national level any time in the year is a good thing.

  32. One bad half/game doesnt make the season rose1414. Just because you were at the game doesnt mean you can interpret what you see.

    Season Averages

    Stanback 6 pts 5.7 Reb 2.1 apg 1 block 2.3 steals
    Santee 7 pts 4.3 Reb
    Massamba 6 pts 2.3 Reb
    Shaw 5.1 pts 2.7 Reb

    Center is giving us 18 pts and 9.3 Reb. and Stanback is playing well. 2 or 3 more baskets start falling and he is 3rd team MWC.

    Thanks for traveling to support the team but the sky is not falling buddy!

  33. @ rose

    Not playing for a while will absolutly affect someone's aggressiveness. I would imagine that not playing for a long time would make someone tentative. Tentative is the exact opposite of aggresive, and is how Chace is playing. It will come with time.

    You are right we were killed on the boards, and that's a scary thing...especially if you seek to run the ball, or cannot shoot from long range.

    Finally, ask UConn whether they think non-athletes with a determination to win can play well. Harvard nearly upset the #13 athlete laden Huskies in Conn. I think the number next to UNLV's name had a lot to do with how hard SC played. The quicker UNLV learns that the better, as in before Saturday.

    @unlvrebels

    I have no problem with skepticism at all, because this team has some flaws. Outside shooting and rebounding. I just hink people failed to realize that were down by 8 at the half and won by 3. Obviously, that's an 11 point swing. Had we played both halves with the defensive urgency we saw in the 2nd half, this article would have been written with a different theme.

    Go Rebs!!!!

  34. hey rose how about you go and start criticizing Willis too because he didnt put up 30?
    Come on, Massamba is doing alright. He isnt a superstar, and never will be. So get that in your head. Team got outrebounded, THE TEAM GOT OUTREBOUNDED, not Massamba.

    Lets hope it doesnt happen Saturday

  35. Rebelfan11- Massamba is NOT a superstar. He needs to do the little things, like set picks and REBOUND. One board is a joke. If this was one game- no biggie- but this is a common theme the last several years with the Rebels. And Massamba might be a great kid, but that's not the point. And Santee is even worse- the guy is a senior- no excuses not to box out and grab a few boards.

    I didn't travel- I live in the bay area- 1983 grad of UNLV. And I am not trying to be like Succotash- just reporting what I saw. Believe me- nothing would make me happier than to see Stanback end the season averaging double figures and Massamba/Santee grabbing 12-14 boards a game between them.

  36. The bigs have usually been putting up double-doubles between the 3 of them. One game doesnt mean Massamba should be released.

  37. Food for thought:

    Because the Rebs run a lot of ball screens the Big is out top setting that hi screen. It is hard to set that screen, have the guard drive, and then the center dive back to the basket to box out and grab a rebound. Especially Shaw who often sets that pick and then pops vs Santee and Massamba who dive to the lane. This leaves them in bad rebounding position, especially if the guards are jacking up 3's leaving long rebounds. What it does do is bring the other teams big out and creates rebounding opportunities for our guards/forwards.

    Just an observation?

  38. I completely agree with you guys on the magnitude of Saturday's win. Yes, Santa Clara was 4-3 coming in and without its leading scorer, but that atmosphere was wild, and to come back from down 10 early in the second half was big. The thing that can't be overlooked is the fact that UNLV is getting to the point where when it goes on the road to face the Santa Claras and Southern Utahs of the world on the west coast, they're going to get a lot of respect coming in and teams will play up for them. That certainly was the case on Saturday.

  39. I invite everyone to go to espn360.com and watch K. ST. almost get beat by Fort Hays before going vs. Washington. They are 1-1 on the road, losing to Mississippi.

    K St. also plays Xavier tomorrow night. Let's see how well they do with the Musketeers. They will have less time to prepare for us as well.

    UNLV finds ways to win, and they are playing with a lot of heart. It can change games. Think back last year, I don't remember any heart out there, this year is much more like a team, and togetherness.

  40. i wish it was saturday

  41. lv-born-n-raised..good observation.

    most rebounds for the bigs will be on the defensive end..also, there wont be THAT many rebounds on the pick n roll because it works really well, so we cannot look at that too much.

    Most rebounds come on the defensive end anyways..

  42. Reagan21
    Stanback does seem to be playing tentatively, but like you said his scoring will come. He is playing good defense and good team ball. Once he gets his mentality back he will be a huge help for this team. I have seen so many flashes of his ability that make me all kinds of excited for when he breaks out and puts twenty up on someone and hearing everyone after the game talk about how amazed they were with what stanback did. The kid is good and like you said will only improve with the season.