Thursday, Dec. 4, 2008 | 2:10 a.m.
Ryan Greene and Rob Miech come to you from Fresno, where UNLV downed Fresno State on Wednesday night, 82-76, behind big performances from Darris Santee and Tre'Von Willis. Santee scored 21 points and helped provide inside-outside offensive balance for the Rebels, while Willis continued to establish himself as the driving vocal force Lon Kruger's club needs on the floor.
Some thoughts ... from Fresno
Rob Miech: “This was, by far, Tre’Von Willis’s best performance in his brief time as a Rebel. Coach Lon Kruger especially liked some of his choices Saturday in a defeat to Cincinnati, particularly the sophomore’s pull-up short jumper in the lane. That’s a play in which he has shown a penchant to bull ahead and get a charging call.
“He showed he has polished his decision-making process even more Wednesday night against his hometown Bulldogs by only committing two fouls. He said late Saturday night that he had to work on that, and he did. And he was there, patiently picking apart Fresno State’s defense in the final minute, when it mattered most. And he only turned it over twice.
“He is developing more of a leadership role with this squad with each game.”
Ryan Greene: "UNLV only hit four of its 17 3-point attempts. Normally, the way this season has gone so far, that'd be a sore thumb that stuck out of a not-so-sterling showing. Tonight in Fresno, it was an oversight.
"The reason being Darris Santee, as the junior big man poured in a career-high 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Santee was aggressive from start to finish against the Bulldogs, and helped UNLV's offense find pure balance. His physical play also got the FSU bigs in foul trouble early and often, which opened things up for Wink Adams and Tre'Von Willis to play the role of closer late in the game.
"Does UNLV need 21 points from Santee every night from here on out to succeed? No. Just a presence.
"Also, it was the second straight game in which Willis truly put his stamp on things in the second half, which is a sign that the sophomore is growing into his role as a leader on this team quite rapidly. He might be more fun to watch progress than anyone else the rest of the way."
Inside the numbers
18: Tre'Von Willis' 18 points -- 13 of which came in the second half -- only begin to tell the story of his night. He continues to progress as a vocal leader, and at halftime realized he needed to be the one to rise up. He was gutsy on several second half drives to the rack, hit free throws late, was stellar on defense and got a win in front of 40 or so family members and friends in his return home to Fresno. He also had four assists (to just two turnovers), three rebounds and two steals.
23: Fresno State picked up 23 personal fouls, but none were more important than the 10 that starting forwards Ned Golubovic and Sylvester Seay accrued. Seay was limited to just five minutes of play in the first half, mostly watching as Darris Santee went to work offensively for the Rebels. Both fouled out late in the second half, and with them on the bench, UNLV patiently attacked the hole with repeated success.
6: Six of the game's more overlooked points came from Mo Rutledge in a two-minute second half stretch that proved crucial. First, the Rebels reserve hit a straight-on three to give UNLV a one-point lead just nine seconds after Myles Green hit one for FSU to put the Bulldogs on top. Then, after an old-fashioned three-point play by Fresno State's Mychal Ladd, Rutledge came back and completed one of his own, starting with a runner down the right baseline. That put UNLV up by four at 62-58. The Rebels spent much of the second half fending off Bulldog surges. Rutledge certainly did his part.
17: While Wink Adams didn't necessarily shed the shooting slump completely (he was 5-of-15), he got back to doing what he does best -- driving to the hole, scoring tough buckets, getting to the line. His 17 points were influenced strongly at the line, where he was 7-of-9. He also had seven rebounds and three assists.
Just in case you missed it ...
UNLV found its offensive balance Wednesday, flexing muscle inside and out. Fresno State was forced to respect the Rebels at all five positions on the offensive end, and never did that show more than on two late-game possessions that helped seal the Bulldogs' fate. Both ended with René Rougeau layups. The patience Lon Kruger's preached in practice this season is showing more and more.
Hopefully you didn't miss it ...
Darris Santee may not score 21 points every night from here on out, but the Rebels showed Wednesday night what they can do when he -- or any of the big men, for that matter -- provide consistent presence and can alleviate some of the pressure on the perimeter.
They said it
Lon Kruger on Darris Santee: "Darris made a lot of good plays, finished a lot of oppoortunities. We really needed that, because we had some other guys who didn't get out of the gates very quickly, and Darris stepping in there and contributing on the offensive end was a nice plus."
Lon Kruger on Tre'Von Willis: "He played with good poise, good composure, didn't try to do too much, I thought generally played as he has been playing, and that's making pretty good plays ... Tre's a big-time competitor. He's real competitive. And I think as he gets more and more comfortable in his role, we'll see more and more of that. We don't have a lot of guys who are real talkative. He's one of them that can be, I think, providing it vocally as well as by example."
Darris Santee on his breakout game: "My team and coaches have been pressuring me to come out and play strong. I felt I had to come out tonight and do that ... I think that me being aggressive has made my teammates want to get me the ball more, and be productive and that's what I did."
Wink Adams on bouncing back offensively: "Tonight, I was real aggressive against the basket. Usually my game comes with me getting to the basket and hitting some free throws and knocking down some jumpers. I think tonight I was able to get to the basket a lot and knock down some free throws."
Tre'Von Willis on providing a lift in the second half: "I felt pretty good out there. I think it had something to do with I thought our team was a little sluggish, in a little slump, so I felt it was time for me to be aggressive at that point and run off with a couple of buckets in a row."
Tre'Von Willis on getting the best of his brother, Dwight O'Neil: "We did a little chit-chat, it's all family talk. I've definitely got one-up on him, he's had a nice career, he's a senior, and won't get a chance to play against him again, so I'm 1-0 lifetime against him."
Tre'Von Willis on wanting more out of Saturday's game at UNR: "We were definitely unsatisfied with our play this evening. We left some plays out there, some tough plays, some hustle plays. That's not our identity of our ball club that we want to have. We have to play tougher, we have to come out tomorrow, grind in practice and get ready for Reno."