Sunday, Jan. 4, 2009 | 3 a.m.
Tre’Von Willis said all of the UNLV coaches and players, “even the redshirts,” were unhappy about what transpired at the end of a 60-58 victory over New Mexico on Saturday night.
It was ugly, he said, but we’ll take it.
“We didn’t dictate,” Willis said, “at either end.”
Willis’s air ball on a free throw with 13.4 seconds remaining will be remembered as the worst of five UNLV misses at the line over the final 38 seconds.
That allowed the Lobos to try a game-winning 3-pointer with three seconds left, but Chad Toppert was a bit too strong on his attempt.
And Tony Danridge’s follow-up tip rolled off the rim.
Other than that awful free throw, Willis paced the Rebels with 15 points over a season-high 32 minutes.
No other UNLV player hit double figures in scoring or logged that much time against New Mexico.
Willis had four assists and three turnovers, only the second time in his past seven games that he had more dishes that miscues.
And he went seven-for-11 at the line. Normally one of the more dependable Rebels in free throws, Willis made 23 of 27 in his previous five games.
That air ball?
“I’m a little bummed about that,” he said.
There might be an explanation, although Willis didn’t talk about it Saturday night.
His right shoulder has been ailing him since he tweaked it early in the season. Actually, it hasn’t been the same since he first separated it as a sophomore in high school.
Willis had a cortisone injection after UNLV lost to Cincinnati on Nov. 29, and he said that helped dull the pain for a couple of weeks.
Lately, though, that pain has returned, which he talked about in recent practices. He said the shoulder has been about 80 percent in recent weeks, and he’s due for another cortisone shot early this week.
The mean season
It was no coincidence that Saturday’s game was one of the tightest of the season for UNLV.
That is what Mountain West Conference games are about, senior forward René Rougeau tried to convey to younger Rebels since the Louisville win.
The game was tied 11 times and the lead changed hands another 11 times.
UNLV’s season-opening victory over San Diego had 17 lead changes and 7 ties. That defeat to Cincinnati was tied three times and the league changed hands 13 times.
A letdown after Louisville?
“Coach harped on that,” Rougeau said. “We fell into that. We can’t listen to people. We have to come out with a lot more fire. We were ready for the game.
“At the same time, we haven’t seen –- haven’t played –- New Mexico. It’s a whole other ball game once we get into the conference. People understand that now.”
New Mexico senior power forward Daniel Faris, who had 19 points on an array of spins and hooks in the post, toyed with his UNLV counterparts.
Darris Santee and Brice Massamba combined for eight points and three rebounds.
Rougeau compared Faris to Jordan Hill of Arizona and Samardo Samuels of Louisville.
Actually, Rougeau said Faris works harder than either of the aforementioned big men that the Rebels faced over the previous week.
“Coach talked about him,” Rougeau said. “He’s come along through the years. I was impressed with him. Our bigs have to do a better job battling.”
Faris couldn’t bark out UNLV’s constant switches on defense to his teammates, either, since he lost his voice Tuesday night in a two-point victory over New Mexico State.
“That’s great company,” said a whispering Faris of Rougeau’s comment. “I don’t know if I’m as good as them, but that’s a great compliment. Rene Rougeau is a great player and I’m just trying to work as hard as I can to help my team.”
Ed O’Bannon, who led UCLA to a national championship in 1995, sat in a front-row seat early Saturday night as UNLV ran through warm-ups.
O’Bannon lives in Henderson, is a marketing director for Findlay Toyota and has been a fan of the Rebels ever since Jerry Tarkanian recruited him, signed him and then released him so he could be a Bruin.
He once dressed down his teammates and threw some chairs in the locker room –- after a victory over Kentucky.
Long after that season, younger teammates told him how intimidated they were of him. Former UCLA coach Jim Harrick called O’Bannon “the lion.”
Think UNLV players might get some inspiration from O’Bannon? He said he has met coach Lon Kruger a couple of times and they get along well.
But Kruger hasn’t asked O’Bannon about talking to the Rebels and maybe showing them his prized piece of jewelry from 1995. Would O’Bannon like to address the Rebels?
“I’d love to,” he said.
UNLV senior power forward Joe Darger yanked down a season-high 10 rebounds against the Lobos. Afterward, an exhausted Darger was asked about his work on the boards. “We needed every one of them,” he said … Saturday was the first time this season the Rebels only had one player (Willis) score in double digits … New Mexico went nine-for-17 (52.9 percent) at the line and UNLV was 16-for-26 (61.5 percent). Shouldn’t have been a surprise, since those were the league’s bottom two free-throw-shooting squads entering the game. UNLV was eighth at 68 percent and the Lobos were last at 65.6 percent … Matt Shaw said he was quite happy to finally take part in practice Friday, even though it was for a limited stretch on defense. “What joy,” he said before Saturday’s game. “I didn’t want to come off the court.” He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee before the Rebels left for Australia in June. He was fitted for a brace Saturday but said it won’t be permanent. “It’s been six months,” Shaw said. “At nine months, it should be fully healed.” … UCLA transfer Chace Stanback wore a stunning red satin-silky dress shirt, with a red tie, to Saturday’s game. Plenty of people thought that should have rekindled the Wardrobe Battle we monitored among the walk-ons, redshirts and injured players at the start of the season. That came to a swift conclusion when walk-on Rob Ketchum earned a uniform, No. 13, by becoming academically eligible to play after fall-semester grades were posted. That’s attire that everyone on the bench pines for, and Stanback agreed that it couldn’t be trumped. So, sorry Chace, the Battle already has a victor. Save that shirt for “Dancing with the Stars.” Steve “Chopper” Jones got a great howl when he heard that line.