SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Tre’Von Willis hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 4:04 remaining and scored all of his 14 points in the second half, and No. 24 UNLV remained unbeaten with a hard-fought 66-63 victory over Santa Clara tonight.
Oscar Bellfield added 15 points and six rebounds as the Runnin’ Rebels moved to 7-0 for the first time since the then-defending national champions started 34-0 in 1990-91, a season in which their lone loss came to Duke in the Final Four.
Santa Clara’s Raymond Cowels missed a long 3-pointer from the top of the arc as time expired. The Broncos (4-4) also had a chance with 32.3 seconds to play, but guard Robert Smith held the ball before driving in himself and missing a tough jumper under pressure in the paint.
Marc Trasolini scored 22 points to lead Santa Clara, making a pair of free throws with 2:02 to play and two more with 52.3 seconds remaining. He also was whistled for a costly technical early in the second half for hanging on the rim after a dunk and that’s when the Runnin’ Rebels gained momentum.
UNLV rallied from 10 points down early in the second half and overcame 26 fouls to beat Santa Clara for the fifth straight time and sixth in seven. It’s been an impressive week for the Runnin’ Rebels after they survived for a 74-72 double-overtime win at Arizona on Wednesday night. They beat then-No. 16 Louisville 76-71 last Saturday to earn a spot in the Top-25.
The Broncos played without sophomore star and leading scorer Kevin Foster because of a broken bone in his right foot that will require surgery soon. He was on crutches and in a cast, and coach Kerry Keating said Foster could miss the rest of the season. Foster, averaging 19.8 points per game, was hurt late in a 79-68 win at previously unbeaten Santa Barbara on Tuesday.
Coach Lon Kruger waved before tipoff to the large contingent of UNLV fans at the Leavey Center, where a handful of scouts were on hand to see the Rebels.
UNLV is showing few effects of losing seven letterwinners and three starters from last season’s team that went to the NIT. The Runnin’ Rebels, picked to finish third in the Mountain West Conference, have held every opponent to 40-percent shooting or below.
The Broncos, rebuilding without departed star bigman John Bryant, pounded the boards early to create extra opportunities and shot 19 free throws in the opening 20 minutes. UNLV was whistled for 15 fouls — five players had two and Willis was one of them — to just six for Santa Clara.
Trasolini scored eight of his points in an 11-4 run over the final 4:55 of the first half, including a three-point play off a steal with 1.5 seconds to go that put Santa Clara ahead 39-31 at the break.
UNLV is ranked in December for the first time since the 1992-93 season, when J.R. Rider starred for the school.
The schools met for the second straight season after the Rebels won 78-66 last year on their home court. Yet this marked just the third matchup since 1975.