Ron Jenkins / AP
Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010 | 2:10 a.m.
UNLV vs. TCU
UNLV Rebels (20-7, 8-5) vs. TCU Horned Frogs (12-15, 4-8)
Where: Thomas & Mack Center
When: 8:00 p.m.
Coaches: Lon Kruger is 132-60 in his six seasons at UNLV and 450-293 in 24 overall seasons; Jim Christian is 26-32 in his two seasons at TCU and 164-90 in seven overall seasons.
Series: UNLV leads 13-2
Last time: UNLV won, 79-70, on Jan. 23 in Fort Worth.
Line: UNLV by 15
TV/Radio: The Mtn./ESPN Radio 1100-AM
G Oscar Bellfield (6-2, 180) 9.4 ppg, 4.4 apg, 2.6 rpg
G Anthony Marshall (6-3, 200) 5.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg
G Tre'Von Willis (6-4, 195) 18.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.5 apg
F Chace Stanback (6-8, 210) 9.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg
F Darris Santee (6-8, 225) 4.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg
Bench: F Brice Massamba (6-10, 240) 4.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg; G Justin Hawkins (6-3, 190) 3.5 ppg, 1.3 rpg; G Kendall Wallace (6-4, 190) 6.6 ppg, 1.7 rpg; G Steve Jones (6-1, 220) 1.6 ppg, 1.2 rpg.
What to watch: Darris Santee suffered a muscle bruise in his lower abdomen, but hasn't looked hurt at all in practice the last couple of days. Can his superb effort form the last two games carry over into a third?
THE HORNED FROGS
G Ronie Moss (6-2, 210) 14.4 ppg, 6.3 apg, 3.2 rpg
G Keion Mitchem (5-10, 175) 3.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg
F Kevin Butler (6-5, 210) 5.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg
F Edvinas Ruzgas (6-6, 215) 10.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg
F Nikola Cerina (6-9, 240) 5.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg
Bench: F Zvonko Buljan (6-9, 235) 12.0 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.2 apg; G Greg Hill (6-2, 215) 7.6 ppg, 2.0 rpg; F Garlon Green (6-7, 210) 4.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg; G Xavier Roberson (6-2, 200) 4.1 ppg, 1.1 rpg.
What to watch: Greg Hill and Xavier Roberson caught UNLV by surprise in the first meeting with their 3-point shooting. Can the Horned Frogs hit 11 treys again? If so, this one could be closer than many expect.
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Regardless of whether the full effect of a big-game atmosphere in the stands returns to the Thomas & Mack Center on Wednesday night, UNLV is in the same must-win situation it found itself in on Saturday.
And after blowing out a Colorado State team that gave the Rebels a scare the first time around, Lon Kruger's club now gets a second crack at another team that — you guessed it — kept things tight in the first meeting.
The Rebels (20-7 overall, 8-5 Mountain West) continue their drive toward the regular season finish and a potential NCAA tournament berth with an 8 p.m. tip Wednesday against TCU (12-15, 4-8).
UNLV took care of TCU in Fort Worth on Jan. 23, 79-70, but the Horned Frogs didn't let the Rebels head home from an extended, two-game road trip without breaking a sweat — thanks to big 3-pointers from some unlikely candidates in the second half.
"Guys came in off the bench like (Xavier) Roberson and (Greg) Hill and really knocked down shots for them," UNLV guard Tre'Von Willis said. "We're definitely going to be aware of what we have to do."
Roberson and Hill combined to hit five of TCU's 11 treys in that game, but Willis got the last laugh. He hit a huge late 3-ball in the face of Horned Frogs guard Ronnie Moss, and combined with Chace Stanback to score 21 of UNLV's final 22 points in the victory.
In that game, TCU hoisted 27 attempts from long range, and UNLV can expect more of the same this time around, as the Horned Frogs are third among Mountain West Conference teams this season with 207 3-point tries.
No matter what the Horned Frogs try, though, the Rebels are more focused on replicating their start from Saturday's home blowout, which took place in front of the smallest home crowd at the Mack this conference season, with a paid attendance of 13,626. In reality, there were probably fewer rear ends in the seats than that.
Against the Rams, before many could blink, the Rebels shot off to an 18-2 lead and really were never threatened after that.
The defensive tone set early opened things up on the other end for everyone, as UNLV had four players score in double figures for the first time this conference season, with several others stepping up as well.
A repeat of that would give TCU a different look than it got last time against UNLV, as Willis and Stanback carried a good amount of the load when the game was close.
Willis finished that game with 30 points, which at the time was a career best. Since then, he's eclipsed the 30-point barrier twice.
Willis said that well-rounded offense will be needed again, as that game was a jumping-off point to defenses paying even more attention to him and making it harder for him to simply get the ball in his hands from teammates.
"I think (being well-rounded) makes it easier on the team and on Tre, because he doesn't have to put his all out on the offensive end, so it allows him to do things other than shoot," said freshman guard Anthony Marshall, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds on Saturday, recording his first career double-double. "He's allowed to make better passes, go harder on defense, so with more players scoring, I think it's easier for us as a team."
The Rebels could also use support from the big men similar to what they got on their trip to Fort Worth.
In that game, Darris Santee, Brice Massamba and Matt Shaw combined for 22 points in what was arguably the trio's best combined offensive performance of the season. Those points came on 9-of-10 shooting.
Kruger said Santee will get his second consecutive start, as he's impressed the coaches both in games and on the practice floor since Shaw went down with a sprained ankle during warm-ups last Wednesday at Utah.
Maybe more important for Santee and Massamba will be defensive attentiveness, because while the Horned Frogs will try to score plenty from outside, Jim Christian's club has gotten solid play of late inside from freshman forward Nikola Cerina.
Against UNLV, the 6-foot-9 frosh had 14 points. He went scoreless in the Horned Frogs' loss against San Diego State at home last Tuesday, but in the team's two games before that averaged 19 points and six boards.
"They battled them pretty well," Kruger said of his bigs. "Cerina has really come on more aggressively here of late, especially offensively."
Despite TCU's down year, the Rebels have no room for error, and said they're treating these final three games against the three teams at the bottom of the league standings as such.
"We can't come out nonchalant," Willis said. "We have to come out and take what we want, basically. That's our mindset this last week."
After Wednesday's contest, the Rebels have their regular season road finale Saturday afternoon at Air Force, followed by a week off before the closer against Wyoming next Saturday at the Mack.