Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer break down UNLV's 88-74 whipping of No. 12 BYU on Saturday afternoon at the Mack to pull even with the Cougars atop the Mountain West Conference standings. The guys give you the key points from the Rebels' 19th win of the season, plus handicap the race for the league's regular season title moving forward.
Another week goes by and more people around the country seem to know about UNLV junior guard Tre'Von Willis.
He set another benchmark in a junior year to remember in an 88-74 blowout victory Saturday over then-No. 12 BYU.
His career-high 33 points, along with five rebounds, eight assists and zero turnovers, got him nationwide pub from ESPN — both on its Web site and multiple TV broadcasts — and earned him co-Player of the Week honors from the Mountain West Conference.
Still, after cutting his teeth yet again Monday at practice inside the Thomas & Mack Center, Willis called it a team honor.
Coach Lon Kruger was singing the same tune, in a way, saying the most significant contribution Willis has made through 23 games actually is not his numbers.
"Maybe most importantly, he's getting his team ready to practice every day and focus on the next game," he said. "That's kind of another next step in maturing his game. I talked to him today, that's maybe as important, as in value, as those other areas."
But at the same time ...
"It's hard to have expected that much growth," Kruger added. "You hope for that, but the growth of his game across the board — not just scoring — has been terrific."
The story of his overall growth is only half told with the numbers.
In 22 games played, Willis is averaging 18 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. He's had nine 20-point games and two 30-point outbursts. To boot, the junior is currently firing away at a 50 percent clip from the field, 28.9 percent from 3-point distance and 85.2 percent at the stripe. The numbers are up almost completely across the board from a sophomore season in which he averaged 11.4 ppg and shot 37.9 percent from the floor.
Willis has also blossomed as a leader, no longer having to wait in the wings to be vocal or defer that role to a senior class that has paid its dues. Kruger loves to talk about the great pace and tempo the Fresno, Calif., native is playing with, as well. Despite being adept at putting up monster numbers on his own this season — numbers which have him in a neck-and-neck race with BYU's Jimmer Fredette for Mountain West Player of the Year honors — that's never a goal of his.
By playing the way he's supposed to play, it just happens.
"He's a proud guy, a very competitive guy," Kruger said. "He understands that it takes more than his play. He's got to get everyone else around him playing well, and that I think is what he's done a really good job of."
As for the individual accomplishments, Willis can refrain from basking in those or gloating about them with the best of 'em.
He'll lead the 23rd-ranked Rebels (19-4 overall, 7-2 MWC) back into battle at 8 p.m. Wednesday against No. 15 New Mexico, who along with UNLV and BYU is locked up in a three-way tie in the league standings heading into the stretch run. The sense from the team Monday was that no one was ready to rest easy after what was an impressive win Saturday.
Willis knows that his junior year, in the long run, will be judged on one thing — how far the Rebels go.
"The thing is I have high expectations for myself," Willis said. "Anything I've done hasn't surprised me up to this point, but at the same time, looking at it from a team perspective, I like where we're at and the direction we're headed in. We do realize how good we can be as a team."
Bellfield sits out, but worry not
Sophomore point guard Oscar Bellfield, who scored 12 points in Saturday's win, sat out Monday's practice with a sore knee.
He bruised the knee during the second half against BYU and took the extra day to simply rest up a bit more.
He is expected to be back at practice Tuesday afternoon and is considered a go for Wednesday's game.
In his place Monday, freshman Anthony Marshall ran the point with the first team.
A first for the MWC
With UNLV's re-entry into the Top 25 polls on Monday, it marked the first time in the Mountain West Conference's 11-year history that the league has had three teams in both Top 25 polls at the same time.
Wednesday will also mark just the second time in league history that two ranked teams have met in a conference game. The first was a meeting just weeks ago between BYU and New Mexico.
UNLV checked in at No. 23 in the AP poll, while New Mexico is 15th and BYU 17th.
"The league having three teams in there is great exposure," Kruger said. "And it means three teams are playing well, in addition to that."