Saturday, Dec. 26, 2009 | 2:29 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Alex Adeyanju discuss UNLV's unflattering finish at the Diamond Head Classic, falling to USC, 67-56. Plus, the guys grade out UNLV's non-conference season and take a look at what's to come in Mountain West play.
"I give us a C-plus," the UNLV junior guard said following the team's 67-56 loss to USC in the Diamond Head Classic title game on Friday. "I think we can do way better than we've been doing.
"There's a lot of positives and some negatives."
The most glaring negative for UNLV is its performance against bigger, stronger lineups, highlighted by losses to Southern Cal and Kansas State.
However, the positives are there, even though they didn't completely show through on Friday, in particular.
Willis has emerged as the team's clear-cut leader on the floor, which is something that lacked in a disappointing slide to finish last season.
Plus, junior forward Matt Shaw has only helped UNLV's defense improve after recently earning a solid spot in Lon Kruger's starting lineup. His vocal presence on that end of the floor has made quite the difference.
"A very good non-conference," Kruger said. "A disappointing way to finish it, but whatever we are, 12-2, you go back to Oct. 15, and it's not just the record, but we've made a lot of progress.
"We started to shoot the ball better, started to do some things better, and this game aside, I think we've established a foundation from which we can build — and need to. This level is not where we can afford to keep playing. We have to get better going into conference play."
Willis takes home, um, hardware
Willis may have had his roughest offensive performance of the season on Friday, but did enough earlier in the week to earn a spot on the all-tournament team.
After the loss, he was adorned with a black beaded necklace and given a wooden oar with the Diamond Head Classic logo on it as extra carry-on baggage to take back to Las Vegas.
Willis scored 12 points in each of the Rebels' first two games in Honolulu.
Also on the five-man all-tournament roster were Saint Mary's forward Omar Samhan, Hawaii guard Dwain Williams, USC forward Marcus Johnson and USC guard Mike Gerrity, who was also named tournament MVP.
Gerrity strikes again
Friday didn't mark the first time in which Gerrity got the best of the Rebels.
As a freshman at Pepperdine, he carried his squad to a 75-61 upset at the Thomas & Mack Center on Dec. 22, 2006.
In that game, the Yorba Linda, Calif., native had 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists to his credit.
Gridders offer support
On hand to support the Rebels on Friday were a pair of fellow student-athletes and Hawaii natives in Malo Taumua and Kamu Kapanui.
Taumua, who will be a senior next season at defensive end for first-year UNLV football coach Bobby Hauck, flew home on Thursday for the holidays. He met up at the Stan Sheriff Center with Kapanui, a long snapper who just wrapped up his senior season with the Rebels.
Taumua said he was inspired earlier this week by a speech given by Hauck to the returning players on the day he was introduced as the 10th coach in program history.
The final word
Willis on just what USC did defensively to take UNLV out of the game so early: "It's one of those things I'm just not sure about. I'm not sure, but we didn't play like we wanted to play. I really can't pin-point a thing at the moment, but we have a long plane ride to reflect on it."