UNLV surges late to chop down SDSU, 76-66

Willis, Stanback get hot, spur comeback, help mask more defensive rebounding woes

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Justin M. Bowen

UNLV guard Tre’Von Willis pulls up for a jump shot during the game against San Diego St. at the Thomas & Mack Wednesday. UNLV won the game 76-66.

San Diego State vs UNLV

Led by the scoring duo of Tre'Von Willis and Chace Stanback, UNLV avenged three 2009 losses to San Diego State, beating the Aztecs, 76-66.

UNLV-SDSU Basketball

UNLV's Tre'Von Willis and Matt Shaw celebrate after Willis scored and drew a foul during the game against San Diego State at the Thomas & Mack Center on Wednesday. The Rebels won, 76-66. Launch slideshow »

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The Rebel Room

SDSU POSTGAME: Another second half surge, another UNLV win

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Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer discuss what again was a tale of two halves for UNLV, as the Rebels used a second half surge keyed by defense and the offensive precision of Tre'Von Willis and Chace Stanback to down San Diego State, 76-66. Plus, a look at a recurring issue for the Rebels and why the team is set up for a nice run coming up.

For the first 20 minutes, UNLV's Mountain West Conference home opener Wednesday against San Diego State looked like it might go the same way previous games against bigger, athletically stacked opponents have gone this season.

The next 20 minutes made the 14,530 in attendance at the Thomas & Mack Center almost forget about those first 20 completely.

With junior guard Tre'Von Willis and sophomore forward Chace Stanback both catching fire on offense in the second stanza, the Rebels (14-3 overall, 2-1 MWC) erased a six-point halftime deficit and polished off the Aztecs (12-5, 1-2), 76-66.

Stanback scored UNLV's first six points of the second half, while Willis scored 15 of the team's 20 points during one stretch, helping chop away at an imposing opponent. In the end, Stanback scored 18, while Willis tallied 23, giving him 67 points in the team's first three league games.

"I felt like I was hurting my team for a minute," Willis said of his 2-of-5 shooting performance in the first half. "I had to bounce back and make some plays."

Willis's hot streak helped take the Rebels from down 45-43 to up on the sputtering Aztecs, 63-54.

Several of UNLV's offensive opportunities in the second half, however, came as a result of enhanced pressure on the defensive end and urgency on the glass.

At the break, San Diego State led 39-33, had out-rebounded UNLV, 23-16, and had produced 24 points in the paint.

"The second half, we were a lot more aggressive," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "There was not much flow in the first half, and San Diego State did a good job. Second half, we dictated a little more on both ends."

SDSU didn't get shut out on the boards after the half, but UNLV instead kept the Aztecs from letting one possession turn into two as often as it had earlier. On top of that, the Rebels didn't allow several high-percentage looks.

"We kind of smothered that high pick-and-roll they had, and luckily they were missing shots," Willis said of the Aztecs, who were 0-for-9 from 3-point range and 10-of-30 from the floor after the intermission. "And we got a couple of easy opportunities."

The Rebels still were out-rebounded on the night, 44-35, but on top of simply keeping pace with their opponent after the half down low, UNLV found a way to cover up the rebounding woes with more offensive efficiency.

In a 74-62 win Saturday at New Mexico, it was Kendall Wallace's über-hot 3-point shooting which served as the masking agent. Wednesday it was the Willis-Stanback combination.

In the Rebels' last two games the duo has shown just how deadly it ultimately could be as a one-two punch on that end of the floor.

"As long as stay consistent, just stay confident, our shots will fall and teammates will look for us," Stanback said. "We can be real dangerous."

Added Willis: "Chace has really had his confidence lately. He's been driving the ball, trying to make plays, been shooting it well. So, when he plays like that, we're a tough club to beat."

That term — confidence — has been brutally synonymous with Stanback this season when the 6-foot-8 UCLA transfer's potential has been the topic.

When he's confident, everyone around can see it clearly.

As he watched himself get a shooter's roll on an 18-foot baseline jumper that opened the second half scoring, Stanback threw his fist down in celebration.

"I thought Chace at New Mexico on Saturday was as aggressive and confident as he's been, and tonight he came back with another good one," Kruger said. "We need that. We need Chace to continue to be aggressive. Derrick (Jasper) is gonna be there to support as well. The more guys we can have helping Tre and Oscar (Bellfield), that's great."

That competitive juice from Stanback flowed all the way through the second half.

With just 46 seconds left, Stanback tore down a rebound off a Kelvin Davis 3-point miss, and with the Aztecs down by eight and the outcome almost certain, he flexed his muscle once again, swinging around with a sneer on his face as an opponent was draped all over him in a fight for the ball.

The foe wound up flailing away seconds later.

"When I got the rebound, he was all over my back, but I didn't mean to swing him on the floor like that," he said with a smile. "It happened, but no hard feelings.

"You want to try to fight, and coach has been getting on us about rebounds and I wasn't gonna let that one go."

Actually, it was a fitting capper to a second half in which the Rebels exorcised some demons left over from losses earlier this season to Kansas State and Southern Cal, games in which a bigger, physical opponent dictated things for almost the full 40 minutes.

UNLV's perimeter defense held San Diego State to just 22 points outside of the paint. It also helped force 20 Aztec turnovers compared to just eight assists. SDSU didn't do itself any favors, either, by going just 16-of-28 from the free throw line.

On the flip side, UNLV continued to take care of the ball exceptionally well, with sophomore guard Bellfield again keeping the ship steady.

With early foul trouble hindering his scoring, Bellfield still managed 12 points. Even more important, though, were his six assists with only one turnover. Through three conference games, he has now totaled a league-best 22 assists with just five turnovers.

"That's what point guards do," he said. "You can get it to other people and get yours at the same time. If mine's not there, I'm still looking to dish and everything. I'm just trying to make the players around me better."

Still, just because the Rebels went 2-1 to open up the conference season against arguably the three toughest opponents they'll face, it doesn't mean everything is 100 percent peachy.

The average of 15.3 offensive rebounds UNLV is allowing through three Mountain West games has to shrink.

Otherwise, the Rebels will continue to play with fire, starting with a 7 p.m. home date Saturday against Utah.

"When we're giving up that many offensive rebounds and offensive rebounds for points, it can be devastating," Willis said. "That's what kept them in the game. It felt kind of weird, because we knew we were defending and getting stops. We just weren't getting the rebounds.

"We've got to work on that, and that's got to be a main priority now moving forward to Utah."

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  1. Don't think many will disagree with you, Sureshot. The 'take' for UNLV was this rough opening three-game stretch in conference play. The 'give', barring the inconsistency issues the Rebels faces last year during the MWC season, is that there will be a nice opportunity to pad that NCAA resume in the final five games, playing Utah, Colorado State, TCU, Air Force and Wyoming heading into the league tourney.

  2. I see 1 more loss in MWC play and I am not sure to who it will be. I see the team going on a long winning streak and maybe getting a wakeup call from a team like Utah (road) or something like that. Then, I see them turning it on for the rest of the season after that wake-up loss.

  3. Must say you guys may be right... at the same time wouldn't be surprised if we run the table...(WOW!! if that happens top 15 with a 4-6 seed is possible?)

  4. Not a pretty game by any means but this is the kind of game we would have lost last year. Having the extra depth and more scoring options saved us in this one. I was pretty disappointed with the rebounding. San Diego State is extremely athletic and aggressive on the offensive glass. They are going to do this to several opponents. They remind me of the Neil McCarthy New Mexico State teams of the early to mid 90's. They just throw it up and go get it. What bugged me was watching the replays and seeing most of our guys standing, watching and not fighting for the rebound. I understand we are undersized and they are more athletic but we have to get tougher on the glass. We can be a very good MWC team but as far as a run into the NCAA's that has to be fixed. Hope Coach works alot on that this week with a tall Utah team coming to town. Runnin' Rebels!

  5. Comment removed by moderator. Offensive language.

  6. RebelSoccer has a point, sort of, about worrying about those games. Those are letdown games that the rebels lost last year and it cost them. Its easier to get up for away games at good teams or a home game against a physical athletic team, especially this year after the KSU and USC games. Wyoming, TCU and CSU aren't near as good as the 3 teams the rebels just played, but the games count just the same.

  7. I'd slow down on the running the table talk. There are a lot of games yet to be played and any team that can take advantage of their supremacy on the offensive glass and at the free throw line is going to beat the Rebs. It's tough to win when you give up 28 foul shots a game and get dominated on the glass. So far the Rebs have gotten away with it but that won't last forever.
    They won't be able to get away with missing layups, not rebounding strong, and fouling a ton on the road. They have to play stronger and not miss bunnies if they expect to keep winning.

  8. IncognitoRebel, you are correct: RebelnSoccerFan is Sufferin'. He changed his handle a few weeks ago and has been trying a new approach.

    Solid win for the team last night. Agree with Gumby - the team loses this game last year. This year, they win by 10.

    Early foul trouble on Oscar hurt the Rebs. I like the fact Kruger came back with Oscar late in the first half, even with two fouls. It cut the lead down and we were a different team with Oscar playing almost the entire second half.

    Have to give credit to the freshman Marshall though for the PG minutes in the first half and the defensive minutes in the second half. This guy is going to be fun to watch around here for a long time.

    Go Rebels. Make it 3-1 on Saturday night!

  9. That was one of the ugliest 1st halves I have seen us play. We were shooting very sub=par and missing really simple lay-ups. With that said, I'm glad SDSU can't shoot a FT to save their lives. Our guys looked like they had cement shoes on. I don't remember which play it was but we had 5 guys under the basket, and they had 1, the guy must have tipped it 4 times and finally in.

    Marshall showed a great amount of fire and got the crowd going with the block (after the foul though), and the slam right after over a player. Wallace was off shooting, but showed a lot of heart on defense. Stanback looked more aggressive and we need that. Willis was looking ok, missed a couple layups, but improved later.

    Good game rebs, and way to fight back and not get down too much. Can't wait til Saturday!

  10. Incognito is right. Except they're not the same person, different tone. Soccer knows nothing. Sufferin loves the Rebels, however misguided he may be. When we win he doesn't say anything and the dude is hyped for Rebel Football just like the rest of us.

    The announcers for the game last night were right. The Rebels need to box out farther away from the basket and come towards the rebounds. They stand under the hoop and let the opposition attack the rebounds. If we stay underneath the basket we're not going to get any over the back calls against the other team.

    I've been very happy with Brice Massamba's performance as of late. Hopefully he continues to improve. oh, and Chop did contribute to the stat line last night. 2 offensive rebounds

  11. easy fellas... just ignore them and they will go back to their miserable lives. i'm also really happy with the big boy brice. he's playing with a purpose.. looks like shaw has been slacking and needs to be looking over his shoulder. and where did hawkins go? he looks lost out there and has zero confidence.

  12. I wondered about Hawkins also. He only played 2 minutes last night.

  13. Tough game. Glad to see the Runnin' rebs step it up.
    Great crowd! I had a good time, it was worth the drive.
    I third the comments about Brice. I hope Kendal can be our Kevin Kruger when he is a senior.
    Bring on the Utes!

  14. The first half was hard to watch. I think the fans came to the T&M expecting a easy win, which is why it was hard to get loud when we weren't killing them out of the gate. Chace was awesome, but I would give the MVP to Oscar. We were out of wack with him on the bench in foul touble and the team came alive with him back on the floor in the second half. He is a master of control and he makes us play our game; not the opponents. I think we take Utah, but we have to come to every game hungry. SDSU will be hard to beat in their house. I hope Jasper can catch some of Stanbacks fire soon.

  15. Good win by The Rebels but there are many tough games yet to be played

  16. No way we beat SDSU next month. We were out-muscled. I wish Kruger would recruit like Fisher, then maybe we'd have a chance @ winning the rebounding margin. He should take a page from Tom Izzo, as soon as the ball goes up, put your body on someone and box 'em out. 6th in the conference in Rebounding will not make the cut come March time. Enjoyed the game, though!!!!

  17. The guys need to box out, instead of hopping around trying to out jump opposing players like they often do. This seems like an easy coaching fix.

    The team probably won't dominate the glass against a team like SDSU, but if they can apply some fundamentals to prevent three or four offensive rebounds a game, that would be a huge difference maker.

  18. It was a great, hard fought contest for the Rebels. As a spectator, I was physically exhausted after last night's game. So, I can only imagine how the players felt.

    It was definitely a frustrating first half. The Rebels played solid defense on many possessions, only to allow all their hard work to be undermined by poor rebounding. It's disheartening for players and fans alike when you clamp down on a team and make them chew up thirty plus seconds of clock to find a shot, only to watch them score on an easy put back in the next three to five seconds.

    It sounds like a joke only not funny: How many Rebels does it take to grab a rebound?

    I agree that the Rebs would be better off boxing out further away from the basket. That can be accomplished with tenacity in lieu of length.

    Also, before the start of the season, I was salivating at the idea of how many "looks" Lon could run this year. Granted, we've seen a number of guard combos, but the front court's been rather generic. How about playing Massamba at center, with either Shaw or Santee facing the basket at power forward? Granted, it could be risky having two heads of three headed monster on the court at the same time. But, it also might give us the rebounding edge we're obviously lacking right now. Who knows if they've even run that combo in practice? I think it's something to consider.

    It's great to see Stanback coming out of his shell offensively. He had a solid line last night, as did Rock of Gibraltar Tre Willis. Jaspar looked flat against the Aztecs. I'd like to see the team get him more involved on the offensive end, because the kid's one of the most gifted athletes on the team.

    Speaking of athletic, Anthony Marshall's posterizing dunk and subsequent block of a much taller SDSU player were nothing short of phenomenal. His point guard play was underwhelming in the first half, but he really picked it up in the last twenty minutes. He's going to be scary good by the time he's a senior.

    It's easy to nitpick UNLV's performance last night. But, this is the kind of game last year's team would (and did) find a way to lose. This year's team is resilient in the face of adversity, proud, and hungry.

    Take it to the Utes this Saturday: Go, Rebs!

  19. On a side note: If Lon's looking for suggestions on rebounding, here's an unorthodox idea. How about the players yell out or growl every time they yank down a board, a la Moses Scurry and David Butler back in the day? It always fired up the crowd, intimidated the opposing players, and sent a message that the Rebels took every facet of the game seriously.

    It would also remind the other UNLV players on the floor of their ongoing commitment to protecting the glass.

  20. Agree with you NevadaSouthern on your comment of Jasper. He seems like he disappears for stretches during the game. He is an unselfish player and that is good but would like to see him exert himself a little more. Nice thing about Tre and Chace being consistent scorers is that a third scorer can be by committee. Could be Oscar, Kendall, Derrick, Anthony maybe even Matt. Nice luxury to have. Sure would like to see Justin more. I think he has a very solid offensive game. Slashes well and can stroke the 3. Afraid as Coach tightens the rotation he is going to be on the outside looking in. Nice to have too many players for once. Good problem to have. Runnin' Rebels!

  21. BTW Anyone else see some similarities between Marshall and a young Greg Anthony? Great athleticism, learning how to play point guard and needs to improve his outside shot. We could only be so lucky if he continues to parallel Greg.

  22. The Rebels have trouble rebounding, that is true. In the second half, the rebounding margin was 21-19. We were only outrebounded by 2 by one of the best rebounding frontlines in the nation..that is fine with me.

    I think that Kruger needs to get QT and Los to focus on rebounding in practice. They will need to provide a very big boost next season in that department.

    We also make up with the rebounding problems by forcing a lot of TOs, getting a lot of steals, and (lately) making our FTs.

  23. I swear - I've been telling everyone I know that Brice Massamba will be a beast when he learns how to distribute all that weight he's lost and learn how to use it as an advantage in the paint.

    The kid can shoot free throws, he can muscle his way for a difficult glass shot - he just needs to get back in the paint when coming out to the key for blocks, and to continue fighting for position.

    I think Hawkins for me is just getting lost in the rotation because of Oscar's recent success. Assist to Turnover is staying consistently positive, and he's also scoring when Chace and Willis are MIA. It's a shame, because he is a true freshman who I am CERTAIN - CERTAIN he will be a four year letterwinner that will produce for this team.

    Marshall still has to shake freshman nerves off -great dunk, but his next shot on the following trip was horrible - not set, and not square at the shoulders.

    An AMAZING test for UNLV is when they hit up SDSU on the road. Let's see how they mature over these next few games.

    Congrats again Rebs!

  24. interesting idea about the growling/yelling. It would probably help them be more explosive. I know it helps me in the gym.

  25. @ BasirWaahid

    would you rahter win the RB margin or the game by 10? I will take our team and the win!

  26. There's an easy test to apply to determine if a poster is Rebel Robert a/k/a Sufferin Succotash and a thousand other handles:

    Just state that UNLV should NEVER build an on campus stadium and should instead play all of its football games in a new off campus stadium built by the city or the county.

    That statement drives him batty. He won't be able to help himself.

    The talk of running the table will stop after we drop a gimme to Utah, TCU, CSU or Wyoming in the next two weeks.

    As poorly as we rebound and shoot the ball, it's bound to happen. We can win the MWC and Dance, but it won't be a cakewalk.

  27. Didn't see the game. It wasn't on regular cable.

  28. If you wanna run the table you must believe!!! And we ain't dropin sh!t New york!!!believe it!!!