Never is there a good time for an injury or illness, but some times are worse than others. Junior guard Tre'Von Willis injured his left ankle when UNLV could least afford it.
"When I first went down," he said, "the first thing that went through my mind was, 'Oh, no. Not now.'
"I wanted to be on the floor to help my team win."
Willis said he will be on the floor and expects to be close to full strength when the Rebels (25-8) meet Northern Iowa (28-4) in an NCAA Tournament first-round game at 4:10 p.m. Thursday at Oklahoma City.
"I do have a high pain tolerance, and I feel I heal fairly quickly," said Willis, UNLV's leading scorer at 17.3 points per game. "I want to be there and do anything I can to help my team, and that's why I normally play through injuries."
Willis sprained his ankle with about three minutes to go in Friday's game against Brigham Young. After leaving the Thomas & Mack Center court to get the ankle taped, Willis ran out of the tunnel and led the Rebels to a 70-66 victory in the Mountain West Conference Tournament semifinals. He scored six of his 18 points in the final minute.
With his mobility limited in Saturday's championship game, Willis was held to 11 points in a 55-45 loss to San Diego State. Kawhi Leonard, the Aztecs' 6-foot-7-inch forward, was a physically demanding matchup for the 6-4 Willis.
"Tre's still a little sore and a little tentative. He didn't do everything today," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said after Monday's practice. "He tweaked it pretty good Friday night, and I thought he battled it the best he could on Saturday. He wasn't the most effective.
"When you're playing someone like Leonard, who's a monster, it's tough enough when you're 100 percent. He still wanted to be out there, so that's a real credit to him."
Kruger is uncertain if junior guard Derrick Jasper will see playing time against Northern Iowa. Jasper practiced Monday, but he has been out since spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee Jan. 26.
"Right now, I'm planning on playing," Jasper said.
But in a game of obvious importance, the Rebels need quality minutes from Jasper, not just shake-off-the-rust minutes.
"It's easy to throw him in, but it's maybe hard for him to be effective. If he's not effective, we're not going to play him," Kruger said. "We won't play him until he says he's absolutely ready. But he did some good things in practice."
Freshman guard Anthony Marshall, who has started the past nine games in Jasper's absence, said he was bothered by a bruised right foot in Saturday's game.
"It's sore right now; there's a little swelling," Marshall said Monday. "Once my adrenaline starts pumping and I get to moving a little bit, it feels pretty good."
Willis said he's getting ice and stimulation treatment for his ankle "around the clock." He also sprained his left ankle in a victory over Weber State on Dec. 17.
"Honestly, that was the tough part. It was the same ankle, and I never fully recovered from the first one," Willis said. "The first time it was worse.
"It was stiff on me today, but it's getting better. I expect if it's not 100 percent, close to 100 percent by Thursday. I'm not thinking about my ankle too much."
UNLV sophomore forward Chace Stanback said he's not concerned about Willis' ability to overcome an injury.
"Like I've said before, Tre's a warrior and he can fight through anything," Stanback said. "He will be fine."
■ NOTES -- Grandy Glaze, a 6-6 forward from Proctor Academy in Andover, N.H., made an oral commitment to UNLV on Monday. The Rebels depart from the Thomas & Mack at about 11:45 a.m. today, and UNLV is welcoming the public to send the team off to Oklahoma City.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907.