Willis reaps benefits of Thursday talk

Sophomore’s 19 points a product of growing comfort level


Justin M. Bowen

Tre’von Willis hits a three in the second half Saturday. The Rebels defeated the Wildcats 79-64.

Just Like Old Times

Behind 25 points from Wink Adams, UNLV beat Arizona 79-64 Saturday in front of 16,667 at the Thomas and Mack Center.

UNLV vs. Arizona

Wink Adams lays it up and over Arizona's Jordan Hill on Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center. Launch slideshow »

UNLV Fan Photos

Photos of fans from Saturday's game against Arizona Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

The Wink, the bad and the ugly

Ryan Greene and Rob "Python" Miech (explanation inside) discuss UNLV's 79-64 trouncing of Arizona on Saturday afternoon at the Thomas & Mack Center. They talk about Wink Adams' offensive eruption, plus what else was memorable and forgettable as the Rebels improved to 10-2 on the season.

Box score

Beyond the Sun

In Saturday's 79-64 UNLV victory over Arizona, Tre'Von Willis was just what coach Lon Kruger wants him to be -- a combination of two different players, depending on the situation.

Kruger and his sophomore guard held a 10-minute meeting at on the Thomas & Mack Center court before Thursday afternoon's practice that addressed just that.

"That was a lot of things," Willis said of the talk. "He was just talking to me about some issues that me and him had between each other, and we basically just decided that I've got to make some more plays for this team.

"It's definitely a humbling thing. He's the man. Whatever he says goes. He's got the utmost confidence in me, and that's what we were talking about, what I've got to do to help this team win."

What Kruger believes Willis needs to do is not only be efficient, but do so while seeing time at either the point guard spot and any of the other perimeter positions.

Willis found a happy median against the Wildcats, first by showing his potential scoring punch with 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting in 28 minutes of run. He also tapped into the fledgling point guard within by dishing four assists off the bench.

"Tre's never played point guard," Kruger said. "So it's kind of hard even today when Oscar (Bellfield) was in there at the point and Tre was in there at wing, I thought Tre was aggressive to score, which is what we need him to do.

"You always want to put guys in position to do what they do best. Wink (Adams), the best thing he does is score. I think it's the same thing with Tre. Even though we need him to play some point guard right now, still the best thing he does is score. Today he did it. He still hasn't shown it too much yet, but still I think it's what's on the horizon."

Following Saturday's effort, Willis is third on the team in scoring, averaging 10.5 points per game. However, his 19 points Saturday were just another peak in a season that has seen a handful of valleys on the offensive end.

He had a 20-second stretch late in the second half, though, that provided more optimism than just about any other flashes he's shown so far through 12 games.

Toward the tail end of Adams' 3-point flurry, Arizona found enough left for one last charge. Behind six straight points, the 'Cats clawed to within 12 points, at 58-46, with 8:37 to go. Kruger got on everyone verbally during a subsequent timeout, Willis included.

Where at some points so far this year he's either passed on an open shot for an extra pass, or skipped an extra pass and opted for a quick shot, Willis got the timing and decision-making down pat this time.


He hit a pair of 3-pointers from the corner that came 18 seconds apart from one another, thanks to a Chase Budinger turnover in between.

Following the second make, as Arizona called a timeout, he clenched his fists, brought them to his chest and lowered his head in modest celebration.

It doesn't mean the conversations between coach and pupil will cease regarding the fine-tuning of his role on this team. It's simply another sign of progress.

While Bellfield looks to be the regular starter at the point spot for now, Willis is embracing his new role as the first guard off the bench -- a guy who can play either spot.

"It wasn't anything different," Kruger said of Thursday's talk. "We've got to get the intensity and get the attack, and eliminate the careless plays. Tre can give us so much of what we need because he's competitive and tough and can make some attacking plays. But it can't be homerun or turnover. There's gotta be a balance in there. A couple of careless plays today. But overall I thought he was terrific and took some big steps."

Teammates see the same potential as Kruger.

"When the game got a little close, Tre came alive," senior wing René Rougeau said. "He put the team on his back and he was just relentless. He's maturing and, if anything, he just has to take his time. When he takes his time, he's one of the most dangerous players in the country."

Added Adams: "When he came in, we already knew this guy had played against some of the best, coming from a great program like Memphis. He can score, he can do a lot of things. I think it kind of tells him how important he is to the team. Even though he's not starting, he still works hard, comes in before practice, comes after practice, always smiling."

A couple more areas where Willis will try to improve over the coming weeks would include his field goal percentage (38.3) and his assist-to-turnover ratio (33 of each so far). A promising sign that progress could seep into those areas is the overall general comfort all of the first-year Rebels are beginning to show, as roles become more clearly defined.

"Team chemistry has a lot to do with that," Willis said. "I feel comfortable, I'm feeling what I need to do for this team. Whether I need to score or get 10 assists in a game, I just need to be aggressive and a playmaker."

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