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UNLV hoops notebook: A rude welcome to the MWC

Win No. 1 in Conference

UNLV opened up the Mountain West Conference season with a close 60 to 58 win over New Mexico Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.

UNLV vs. New Mexico

Darris Santee and Kendall Wallace can't bear to watch as UNLV shot two-of-seven at the free throw line in the last 38 seconds. The Rebels still managed to beat the Lobos, 60-58. Launch slideshow »

UNLV Fan Photos

Photos of fans from Saturday's game against New Mexico Launch slideshow »
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Tre'von Willis puts in a late layup Saturday at the Thomas and Mack Center as UNLV took on New Mexico. The Rebels beat the Lobos, 60-58.

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.”

Good company

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.”

Strong presence

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.

Free throws

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.

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  1. Horrendous. Rebels deserved to lose but it's the sign of a good team to pull off the win on an off night.

  2. Do something about these free throws. We're choking at the line. Willis may have air balled one of them but it wasn't just him struggling. Senior Rutledge missed both of his with the game in the balance. Sooner or later we're gonna lose a game due to this weakness.

    And what's happened to our inside game? Santee and Massamba are missing in action.

  3. No doubt Lenny, disturbing patterns. That should have been a loss. Good to win stinkers like that. But you can't cover those deficiencies with a Band-aid. I think it's best to be grateful that there's a week off before the game at TCU, so Wink can get right in practice.
    Lotta missed 3s last night, too. If Mo or Wallace hit one more, that game has a different tone. Still, WAY too close for comfort, I know, for Rebels fans.

  4. Any win is a good win. Deficiencies exposed especially in the paint. Santee put up a good battle against Faris second half but Massamba needs to work on vertical jump and ball handling. I like his athleticism, however. If I am opposing team I foul Rutlidge every time; he has no "touch" but contributes with rebounding and defense.

  5. It's good to read that Ed-O still roots for the Rebels. I think I also read on the Internet somewhere that he finished up his Bachelors at UNLV. It sounds like he's doing well in the dealership business, but "the lion" should give coaching a try.

  6. Texan, we wrote on Ed a couple of years ago. He's very active in the community and at his church, and he even helped tutor Billy White, now at San Diego State, at Green Valley High. I was fortunate enough to cover him when he won that title at UCLA in '95. That piece covered the irony of how he was released from Tark, when it appeared it didn't look good for UNLV in 1990, then wound up finishing his degree requirements at UNLV.
    None of my business, but he'd stir theses guys up with a 15-minute "chat" and a quick glance at his national championship ring.
    A great player, but an even better person.
    We'll do more with Ed in the future.

  7. On a positive note, Deshawn Mitchell has really been impressing me since that article you wrote on how he has been working harder in practice. That dunk he had in the first half was intense. He is such an athlete, Im glad he is getting more playing time and hope he contributes more and more to get the crowd and team energized. Reminded me of Corey Bailey last year with some of his dunks.
    Lets get a good week of practice in and continue our success on the road next 2 games. I want to go into BYU with the 16-2 record. I don't even care about a ranking. We have played better over the last couple years when we fly just under the radar.