Tuesday, March 9, 2010 | 2:15 a.m.
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UNLV junior guard Tre'Von Willis being named first team All-Mountain West Conference on Monday came as a surprise to few.
And while the Rebels' leading scorer was flattered, it was another honor that held a more prominent place in his inner trophy case.
Willis was also one of five MWC players named to the All-Defensive team.
Willis, who's averaged 1.2 steals per game on top of his 17.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists, typically is assigned to an opponent's top backcourt threat.
"I think I pride myself on that more than first team All-Conference," he said. "I definitely take on the challenge and like to stop the person in front of me or make a play. I really like that award more than anything."
Added coach Lon Kruger: "When you think back to a year ago and think back to the early fall workouts, I think the progress and the results are about all you could have expected and more. He's had a terrific year. His game's matured so much, his leadership ability has matured so much. Just all around, he does a lot for his team."
Teammates Chace Stanback and Oscar Bellfield also earned league honors to kick off the week.
Stanback, who is averaging 10.6 points and 5.8 rebounds this season after a slow start during non-conference play, joined Willis on the All-Defensive team. He was also a member of the Mountain West's third team All-Conference.
As for Bellfield, who has taken the reigns of the UNLV offense, averaging 9.3 points and 4.6 assists, the sophomore was named honorable mention All-Conference.
Updates from the Utah front
It sounds as if UNLV could end up with something of a surprise Thursday night when it meets Utah at 8:30 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack Center in the MWC tourney quarterfinals.
It was assumed recently that sophomore center David Foster, who in a 73-69 victory over the Rebels in Las Vegas earlier this season had a career night with 13 points and six blocks, would be out for the season with an ankle sprain.
However, Foster told the Deseret News on Thursday that the ankle "feels great."
Foster, who averaged four blocks per game during the regular season, was named the league's Defensive Player of the Year.
Foster will be a game-time decision, according to coach Jim Boylen, as will senior forward Kim Tillie. Tillie suffered an ankle sprain of his own Friday afternoon.
Shaw ready to let loose
Matt Shaw didn't accomplish much in terms of statistics Saturday in a 74-56 victory over Wyoming, registering a rebound and an assist in eight minutes.
But in his first game back after missing four with a sprained left ankle, he merely needed to shake off some rust.
"It's definitely different from practice to game time, so I'm glad I got the opportunity to get in and see how it felt," the UNLV junior forward said. "It felt good, so I'm gonna go real hard next game."
It's ironic that he'll be going hard against Utah on Thursday in the MWC tourney quarterfinals.
It was before that 66-61 setback Feb. 17 in Salt Lake City when Shaw suffered the injury during warm-ups.
He was set to start against the Utes that night after coming off the bench the previous six games. It was a reward of sorts for his improved play and effort leading into that game.
Averaging 7.2 points and three rebounds per game this season, Shaw averaged 10.3 points and 3.8 boards during that six-game stretch as a reserve, hitting nine 3-pointers in the process.
He spent some time after practice Monday shooting threes from around the arc.
Talking Lobos ... sort of
New Mexico — the league's outright regular-season champion — swept the conference's top individual honors.
Junior guard/forward Darington Hobson was named the league's Player of the Year, leading the Lobos in points (15.8), rebounds (9.1) and assists (4.6).
Steve Alford, who led the club to a 28-3 regular season finish in just his third year in Albuquerque, was named the conference's Coach of the Year.
UNLV split the regular season series with New Mexico, and the only way the two could meet in the upcoming Mountain West Conference tournament would be in Saturday's title game.
"I can tip my hat to them a little bit, but that's about it," Willis said with a grin. "They don't get any smiles from me. I definitely look at them as the competition. I definitely have no hatred towards them."