Willis key to UNLV’s strong finish against Louisville

Junior guard stings Cardinals in second half to topple No. 16 team

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Tre’Von Willis is pressured by Louisville guard Peyton Siva, left, and forward George Goode during the second half of Saturday’s game at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Rebels upset the 16th-ranked Cardinals 76-71.

No. 16 Louisville vs. UNLV

Despite losing a 19-point lead, UNLV held on to beat sixteenth-ranked Louisville 76-71 Saturday.

UNLV-Louisville Basketball

UNLV forward Brice Massamba and the rest of the Rebels celebrate their 76-71 upset of 16th-ranked Louisville Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

POSTGAME EDITION: Rebels produce winners across the board on busy day

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Ryan Greene, Christine Killimayer and Ray Brewer discuss a busy day in UNLV athletics, including the hoops squad's resounding 76-71 victory over No. 16 Louisville at the Mack and the football team's sendoff to coach Mike Sanford and its 16 seniors coming in the form of a 28-24 come-from-behind victory at home over San Diego State.

It wasn’t the best first half Saturday afternoon for UNLV junior guard Tre'Von Willis, but he capped it with a flourish and had a sterling second half.

His game buoyed the Rebels to a stirring 76-71 victory over the 16th-ranked Louisville Cardinals and arguably represents Willis’s finest stretch for UNLV.

As a freshman at Memphis, he hit double digits in scoring once, with 12 points in a home game against Tulane.

Last season, his first as a Rebel, Willis had a scintillating four-game stretch – all victories – in which he racked up 25 assists and only turned it over twice.

To start that span, he had 48 points, 14 assists and the two turnovers in three games.

With 55 points in his past three games, Willis has shown why he was deserved of some preseason All-Mountain West Conference recognition.

On a deep team, Willis just might be the rudder on which sixth-year coach Lon Kruger will depend.

He had 16 points, 9 assists and 6 boards against Louisville.

In a tough one three games ago against the sticky Southern Illinois Salukis, Willis displayed his determination and grit with a career-high 25 points on 8-of-11 shooting.

He’s hit 20 of 33 shots from the field, nailed 12 of 14 free throws, collected 19 rebounds and 16 assists, stolen two passes and blocked a shot over his past three games.

Willis has turned it over 10 times in that span, and the first half Saturday wasn’t one of his best.

But he was plenty busy at both ends of the court.

He played tight defense on Louisville senior point guard Edgar Sosa, making it difficult for the Cardinals to get going and a reason why they fell into a 19-point hole against the Rebels.

Willis also helped UNLV break a full-court, trapping defense by the Cards with regularity.

He scored inside on the right side to give the Rebels a 7-4 lead three minutes into the game, then he lost the ball out of bounds along the right sideline on the next possession.

Later, Willis traveled. But on the next play, he broke down Louisville’s 3-2 zone defense to feed center Darris Santee for a strong dunk that played to the rowdy crowd of 14,390.

Santee got fouled, and he hit the ensuing free throw for a 12-8 advantage.

Willis sank a 3-point shot just left of the top of the key to give UNLV a 30-22 lead.

He was whistled for an intentional foul when officials caught him grabbing Jerry Smith’s jersey. But Smith missed both technical free throws and the Cards didn’t score on the possession.

With 2:20 left in the first half, Willis missed a free throw, his first in 19 attempts at the line this season. On UNLV’s next possession, he lost control of the ball.

But Willis found himself with the ball in the waning seconds of the half, and he drove in for a banker on the left side the fell through just before the buzzer for a 40-30 lead for UNLV.

Six minutes into the second half, Willis drove in through the right side and got fouled, causing Kruger to rise from his chair and shake both fists at the toughness his team was showing.

Sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield, in particular, was savvy and strong in breaking down Louisville’s press on that play, which led to Willis’s trio of points.

The Rebels had a comfortable 53-34 edge.

A minute later, Willis was subbed out and Louisville started ripping off a devastating run.

By the time he went back in, the Cards were within 11. He hit a free-throw jumper to pump it to 14, missed a layup and then connected with Derrick Jasper on one of their patented alley-oops.

That made it 62-56. Still, Louisville wouldn’t be denied. After Willis air-balled a 3-point attempt from the left side, Sosa made a 3-pointer to tie it, 62-62.

The Cardinals had made up a 19-point deficit in nine minutes.

“We missed some shots,” Willis said. “They were open and had some opportunities. But we’re the type of team that, they’ll fall the next time. We’ll keep grinding and grinding.”

Bellfield turned it around with eight points in a three-minute flurry, and Santee and Jasper played tight defense down the stretch.

Willis sealed it. He grabbed a rebound under his glass and got fouled, and his free throw gave UNLV a 74-66 lead.

His two free throws with 15.8 seconds left put the Rebels up, 76-68, and Sosa canned a desperation bomb at the buzzer for the final margin.

Willis leads the Rebels with a 16-point average, and he’s shooting 24-for-33 inside the 3-point arc. He’s making an outlandish 92 percent of his free throws, which he has been working on for months.

Watch him closely on his next miss from the line; he doesn’t take them lightly. He’s second on the team in rebounding, with 26, and he has a team-best 21 assists.

“Our guards are very tough,” Willis said. “We try to make plays for each other and try to be aggressive, and try to get results.”

The toughest of them all might be the fourth-year junior, with all those tattoos, from Fresno. His value will be apparent as UNLV hits the road, at Arizona and at Santa Clara, this week for the first time this season.

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  1. He will be the man in the road games this year..especially in that TOUGH (who the hell scheduled that to start off conference) 2 game stretch to start out the conference slate....he wants the ball late in games, which is my favorite trait about him.

    oh, you think hes selfish? He leads the team in assists!

  2. No more one-on-three fastbreaks and no more airball 3's please. Love his defense and rebounding and leadership. Between Oscar, Tre, and Jasper we have some great guards. Don't forget about the rookies too.

  3. Have really enjoyed seeing the growth of this young man on the court. The thing about his assists is that he is making his teammates better. A majority of his assists have given someone else an open layup or a dunk. Love how this team shares the ball.

    I know we are all excited right now, but Wednesday is going to be a battle. Arizona is going to want a piece of UNLV. Would not surprise me if the Rebels took their first hit on the chin. We'll see. Go Rebels!

  4. 11, who said he's selfish???

  5. ESPN/USA Today 21
    AP 24

  6. He's definitely playing unselfish this year.

    I think last year he struggled with sloppy drives into the paint that often led to a turnover or charge but he's playing so much smarter this year. He's really been impressive.

  7. Hey Rob, remember when many people called Willis selfish last season? Also sufferin, who has nothing positive to say ever. That is what I am referring to. Never anything negative to say about or towards you, Rob!!

    We ranked babbbbyyyyy!!!

  8. It was a great effort by the Rebs Saturday afternoon. The atmosphere in the Mack was absolutely electric.

    The Rebels need to do a better job finishing games. They were up huge, when the Rebs eased back on the throttle and settled for ill-advised jumpers and three's. They stopped doing all the little things that got them that huge lead in the first place. But, once again, they found a way to win.

    They've got a tough game Wednesday against Arizona. There's bad blood between the programs, it's our first away game of the season, and now we've got the added bull's-eye of being ranked painted on our backs.

    However, this team has been so much fun watching learn from each other and grow together. The Louisville game seemed light years removed from our play against Washburn, when it's only been a little over two weeks.

    Way to go, Rebs!

  9. The great thing about having depth is that Tre does not have to carry us. Everybody is chipping in and that has made a huge difference. If I had to nitpick Tre still makes a few to many silly turnovers due to ball handling but he has made up for it with his toughness and leadership. I love the fact this team comes at you in waves. They are relentless. Good test in Tucson. Love beating the Wildcats(especially when Midnight Lute was coaching!) Runnin' Rebels!

  10. Way to Go REEEEBELLLLLL! Keep it up, don't lose the intensity, stay humble and kick butt. Tre promise me you won't wear anymore new shoes in a game, especially of this magnitude. Keep grinding and growing.

  11. fan11, no worries... thx... I'm not immune to negative stuff, tho... and I have no problem with those who have issues with something I write, etc ... this forum is about interesting and insightful (sometimes) exchanges of ideas ... all good

  12. I saw that Tark was at the game again on Saturday. Good to see him out and about and taking interest in the team.

    It seemed like Kruger left Shaw in for way too long and that allowed Louisville to go on a run in the second half. I think Shaw is a good player but Santee was playing great. When he got back in at the end of the game and fronted the post it shut down Louisville's inside game. His ability to make it difficult to get entry passes into Samuels changed Louisville's whole game.

    It was great to see the much maligned Santee step up in a big game against a likely NBA player in Samuels. Hopefully he builds on that performance and keeps gaining confidence. We don't need much from that position other than defense and effort.

    Also, seeing Lopez warm up for the game made me understand why he asked for the red shirt to gain weight. That dude is crazy skinny. They need to get him on an offensive lineman's diet.

  13. The people sitting in the suite right behind me seemed to hate Tre. Every missed shot or turnover or foul they would throw a fit and scream that he sucked. Leading scorer, leading assist man, second in rebounds, not to mention the closest thing to a sure thing from the line for us so far. Give the kid some credit. He's playing great. Keep it up Tre, and good luck Rebels on Wednesday.