UNLV BASKETBALL:

Willis overcomes ‘traffic issue,’ injury to help trump TCU

Sophomore guard comes off bench, fights hamstring woe to score 11 points

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Justin M. Bowen

Rene Rougeau and Tre’Von Willis observe from the bench after the Rebels get a large lead during UNLV’s game with the TCU Horned Frogs Tuesday at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Feeling the Pressure

With post-season hopes looming, UNLV used a full-court press and a 23-2 run to help avenge a January loss to TCU by beating the Horned Frogs 71-57 Tuesday night.

UNLV vs. TCU

The UNLV defense presses TCU as UNLV took on the TCU Horned Frogs Tuesday at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

TCU POSTGAME: The press and the enigma

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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech discuss UNLV's 71-57 defeat of TCU, which involved the smaller Rebels lineup applying staunch defensive pressure on the inexperienced Horned Frogs. The guys also dissect one of Wink Adams' steadier performances of the year, the enigma known as Tre'Von Willis and what's up next for Lon Kruger's 18-6 ball club.

Box score

Beyond the Sun

He wasn't on the floor for most of the night's warmups, making his first appearance on the Thomas & Mack Center floor in uniform roughly five minutes before tip-off.

He didn't start for the first time in 11 games after what coach Lon Kruger called a "traffic issue" postponed his arrival to the arena.

He scored 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting in 28 minutes, all of which came while playing with a tender right hamstring and a lingering bum right shoulder.

Just another night for the enigma known as UNLV sophomore guard Tre'Von Willis.

It ended with Willis, who hung around with teammates after receiving treatment on his leg following the 71-57 triumph over TCU, declining to comment on his evening.

"I'll catch you on the flip side," he said from under the hood of his red adidas sweatshirt.

But Willis' analysis wasn't necessarily needed to recap his contributions.

Despite coming off the bench for the first time since Dec. 23, Willis never appeared to take it as a slight, and instead helped key a 23-2 run that lifted UNLV out of a 10-point deficit and into a lead it never would relinquish.

Willis' first bucket of the game came on a coast-to-coast layup with 7:42 to play, which gave the Rebels their first lead of the game at 18-17.

"I had a hamstring injury myself (in junior college), and that's not easy to play on," senior teammate Mo Rutledge said. "If he's out there doing that, that's great for our team."

The Memphis transfer only continued to defy the physical limitations of his banged-up body.

The best example of that came with just under 14 minutes to play in the game, when he chased an opponent toward the sideline for a loose ball on the defensive end of the floor.

After crashing to the floor during the effort, he was slow to get up. Maybe it was a ploy to make the Horned Frogs think he'd aggravated his injuries and would lose some effectiveness on offense. Maybe not.

Either way, he shook free to cash a 3-pointer from the corner 14 seconds later, putting the Rebels up by 13 points.

His 11 points were accompanied by five assists, four rebounds and two steals. He continues to settle into a nice pace, with 45 assists to 16 turnovers to his credit so far in league play.

Teammates are continually taking notice.

"(He's gained) a lot of respect," Rutledge said. "When he's talking, everybody's willing to listen, even if it's Wink (Adams), myself or Joe (Darger). People are gonna listen when he speaks up."

Unfortunately for Willis, it'll be a battle to get back to full strength before this season is over.

It's long been known that his shoulder, which was separated early in the season, could require off-season surgery. Plus, hamstring injuries aren't known for simply going away without anything short of a good amount of rest.

With UNLV now 18-6 overall and 6-4 in the clogged-up Mountain West race, there's not much time to sit around and heal.

Still, he can get himself closer, which will add plenty.

"It's definitely a lot better when Tre's at full strength," Darger said. "He's able to penetrate in there a little more and make stronger plays for us. Right now, he's not at 100 percent and he's sometimes getting in there and can't make the plays he can make when he's 100 percent. So if we can get Tre back to 100 percent and get everyone to pick up their awareness and take care of the basketball, it'll pay off for us."

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