Rebels bounce back with win at Fresno State

FRESNO – Tre'Von Willis enjoyed a happy homecoming. Darris Santee had his coming out party. And UNLV snapped its two-game losing streak with a 82-76 victory over Fresno State (2-4) on Wednesday night at the Save Mart Center. All in all, it was a very fertile night for Lon Kruger's Runnin' Rebels (6-2) in the farmlands known as the San Joaquin Valley.

Santee, a 6-foot-8, 225-pound junior college transfer from Midland, Texas, scored a career-high 21 points to go along with five rebounds and one very big steal while Willis, a former prep star at Washington Union High School here, tied his career-high with 18 points in helping UNLV put behind their bad memories of back-to-back home losses last weekend.

"No question it was an important game," Kruger said. "Any time you drop a couple at home you need to bounce back and get the next one regardless of where it is. When it's on the road it adds to the difficulty."

The game featured 10 lead changes with the final one coming with 6:24 to go when Santee hit two free throws to give UNLV a 66-65 advantage. That started a 18-11 run by the Rebels to close out the game.

Santee, whose previous career-high was just nine points, had another big basket during the stretch as well as a steal on an inbounds pass with 26 seconds remaining that sealed the win for the Rebels.

UNLV enjoyed a 26-14 edge in points in the paint, most of them coming from Santee in the first half when he scored 14 of the team's first 24 points.

"It felt real good," Santee said. "My team and my coach have been preaching to me to come out and play strong. I felt I had to come out tonight and do that. … It helps a lot when I'm aggressive early and help us establish the inside presence early. The rest of the game is going to come to us."

"Darris came up big today," Willis, who had about 40 friends and relatives in the stands, said. "He was huge for us today. I joked with him that he has to play big inside for us every game."

"Really needed that," Kruger said of Santee's big offensive showing. "The other guys didn't step out of the gates very quickly, and Darris stepping in there and contributing on the offensive end is a nice plus. … The way they were playing him on the ball screens kind of allowed him some opportunity to roll down through the lane. They were loading hard on the ball which is understandable."

Senior guard Wink Adams, who came into the game in a 5-for-25 shooting slump, scored 17 points but was just 5-of-15 from the floor and 0-for-4 from 3-point range. The preseason Mountain West Conference co-player of the year was clutch at the free throw line however, sinking seven of eight attempts in the final five minutes.

"Tonight I was able to get to the line a lot and I was able to get to the basket," Adams said.

Willis also had a big game although he lost the family scoring battle against his brother, Fresno State guard Dwight O'Neil, who finished with 21 points. However, he will own bragging rights with the win.

"I definitely got one up on him," Willis said. "He's a senior and I won't get a chance to play him again. I'm 1-0 lifetime against him."

UNLV hits the road again on Saturday night when it faces in-state rival Nevada in Reno.

Inside the Rebels Top Stories