Ron Jenkins / AP
Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010 | 10:32 p.m.
But in the meantime, boy, are those two becoming pretty fun to watch.
With TCU threatening midway through the second half Saturday, the duo combined to score 21 of the team's UNLV's 22 points, helping the Rebels pull away for a 79-70 victory at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.
Willis's 30 points went in the books as a new career high, while Stanback's 19 matched his career best, which was set just three days earlier at Colorado State.
"Defenses have to pick their poison a little bit," Willis said. "They've either got to focus on me or they've got to focus on Chace. When they focus on me, Chace steps up and knocks down shots. That's what we need. He's stepping up and playing very well right now."
Added Stanback: "When he gets the ball, I know he's gonna attack, and if he doesn't have anything, I know he's gonna look for me. We kind of feed off of each other out there."
The two showcased their wide array of offensive abilities when things really got tense for the first time all afternoon in front of 4,270 fans in Fort Worth.
UNLV (16-4 overall, 4-2 Mountain West) thoroughly controlled every aspect of the game in the first half, taking a 38-30 lead in the break. It easily could have been much larger, but TCU (10-10, 2-3) kept itself afloat by hitting a handful of timely 3-pointers.
The Horned Frogs were just close enough that one little push completely could have changed things, and that happened roughly five minutes into the second half, when a quick 7-0 spurt made it a one-point game, 53-52.
"We knew we couldn't panic," Willis said. "We did get a little sloppy when they came back. They made that nice little run. They were at home and we knew they were going to make a run at some point. We told each other we had to take the blow, turn it on them, buckle down and finish the game."
Willis and Stanback really kicked it into gear when TCU ultimately came back to tie the game at 60-all with 8:35 left, when Ronnie Moss hit a layup in transition and was fouled in the process.
On the heels of the old-fashioned three-point play, Stanback took TCU's Zvonko Buljan to the rack from the left corner and dropped in a tough bucket.
The next time down, he head-faked, drawing Buljan into mid-air. He took a dribble and a step in, calmly cashing a 17-foot jumper.
"He's a great 16-to-18-foot shooter," TCU coach Jim Christian said. "They ran one screen play for him that we got beat on four times that we ran through 1,000 times. Maybe we should have run through it 1,004 times, I don't know."
Then it was Willis's turn.
On back-to-back possessions, he took advantage of a one-on-one match-up with Moss. First, he backed him down off of the right wing, ultimately turning around and hitting a fading jumper off the glass from 15 feet out. Then, off a steal, he pulled up and hit a 3-pointer in Moss's face from the left wing.
As he ran back down the floor, he skipped a bit, curled his lip to sneer at the crushed TCU bench and threw up three fingers on each of his hands.
"The thing I love about him from watching all the games is that he plays the game simply, and I mean that as a compliment," Christian said. "He understands how to catch the ball, where to catch the ball, what to do with it. He's such a hard matchup because he's got great size, he can post, he can shoot threes, he can drive the ball, he's hard to foul.
"To this point, with what I've seen, he's the best player in the league."
That trey capped a 9-0 run put together by the pair, and in the final four minutes of the game they simply sprinkled on some more.
No other Rebel scored until Derrick Jasper hit a free throw with 1.2 seconds left and the game already in hand.
In all, Willis totaled his 30 points on 9-of-14 shooting, adding six rebounds and four assists. It was the first time in exactly two years since a UNLV player reached the 30-point mark, with Wink Adams having last done it in a 78-71 victory Jan. 23, 2008 over Wyoming, with a 33-point outburst.
Stanback was 8-of-12 from the floor, also grabbing four defensive rebounds in 26 minutes.
In reality, it was just more of the same from what quickly is emerging as the the Mountain West's most deadly one-two combo on the offensive end.
In six conference games, Willis is averaging 24.2 points per game and shooting 51 percent from the floor. He's scored at least 20 points in six consecutive games.
In that same stretch, Stanback is averaging 14.5 points per contest on 50 percent shooting, having clearly found his groove after sitting out a year following his transfer from UCLA.
"They both made big shots, played with great pace and great poise," Kruger said. "And we needed them all, and that's what made them more impressive. They all came at critical times, and they gave us a little bit of a cushion."
Complementing Willis and Stanback were the Rebels' big men, who all responded well to a shuffle in the lineup by Kruger.
Brice Massamba started in place of Matt Shaw inside for the first time since Dec. 12, responding with six points early in the second half. Meanwhile, Shaw, who turned 22 on Saturday, scored 10 points off of the bench, including a pair of first half 3-pointers.
Darris Santee, playing in his home state, scored six first half points and also grabbed two rebounds in 14 minutes of play.
Freshman forward Nikola Cerina led four Horned Frogs in double figures with 14 points, scoring 12 of them in the second half.
The Rebels joyfully left the arena and returned to Las Vegas after spending five days on the extended road trip having improved to 7-1 this season in true road games. They'll play league cellar-dweller Air Force (8-10, 0-5) at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Thomas & Mack Center before an eight-day layoff.
Growing more and more confident on the road as the games go by, the Rebels still see areas needing improvement.
But for now, the league's hottest offensive combo is commanding all the attention.
"We're very confident, but we still talk to each other about letting one slip away from us in Provo," Willis said, referring to the team's 77-73 loss Jan. 6 at BYU. "We still think we can grow, though, as a team and get better. We really feel good about that, because we feel we haven't tapped our potential yet."