Rebels seeing success on road

FORT WORTH, Texas — Every time he packs his bags and takes his team on the road, UNLV coach Lon Kruger expects travel hassles. But airport delays are not among his concerns.

The advantage for the home team often seems greater in college basketball than in any other sport. Kruger said he believes that theory to be true.

So with the Rebels running up a 6-1 road record this season, Kruger has no reason to be displeased, even if a couple of those victories looked ugly.

“The home team is always more energized by the crowd,” he said. “All road wins are great, especially in conference play. When you win on the road a few times, you gain some confidence.”

Still, overconfidence should not be a problem for UNLV (15-4, 3-2 Mountain West Conference) when it faces Texas Christian (10-9, 2-2) at 3 p.m. today at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.

The Rebels were upset 80-73 by the Horned Frogs here last year as 6-foot-9-inch forward Zvonko Buljan put up 20 points and 13 rebounds. Buljan and guards Edvinas Ruzgas and Ronnie Moss combined for 53 points in that game, and all three return to lead TCU.

UNLV’s poor defense was more of a factor in the loss than the Horned Frogs’ home-court advantage, arguably the weakest in the MWC because of typically small crowds that can make the arena feel like a morgue.

Whether the atmosphere is hostile or not, Rebels junior guard Tre’Von Willis said he relishes every road challenge.

UNLV has won at Arizona, Santa Clara, Southern Utah, Hawaii, New Mexico and Colorado State. The Rebels’ loss was at Brigham Young, 77-73 on Jan. 6.

Last season, UNLV went 6-7 on the road. The team’s mindset has changed this season, Willis said, and he’s setting the tone.

“I like playing on the road in front of the other team’s crowd. When you win, there’s no better feeling than that,” Willis said. “On the road, we come together and realize our backs are against the wall. It’s thousands of people against us 15.”

One obstacle the Rebels, and most other teams, normally must overcome on the road is unfavorable officiating. UNLV has attempted fewer free throws than its opponent in all seven road games, with the home teams getting a total of 71 more foul shots.

In the Rebels’ 80-72 victory at Colorado State on Wednesday, the Rams attempted 28 free throws to UNLV’s 23, and six of the Rebels’ foul shots came in the final minute.

One reason for the season-long disparity is UNLV is a jump-shooting team. Kruger wants to see more aggressiveness from his team on the offensive end, an important element to drawing more fouls and winning away from home.

“The good thing about this team is they do understand we have to keep improving,” said Kruger, who hinted a minor lineup shakeup could be looming.

“We may switch around a couple guys, but we’re not sure about that yet.”

Sophomore center Brice Massamba, who shot 3-for-3 and scored six points in 22 minutes Wednesday, is a candidate to return to the starting five. Massamba started the first eight games in the post, and junior Matt Shaw has received the past 11 starts.

The Rebels have been carried lately by Willis and sophomore forward Chace Stanback.

Willis is averaging 23 points in five conference games, and Stanback has averaged 16.3 points in the past four games.

“I think everybody pretty much knows what Chace can do by now,” Willis said.

Willis scored 21 points and Stanback 19 against Colorado State, which was 8-0 at home before falling to UNLV.

NOTES — TCU is 8-3 on its home floor, with MWC victories over Air Force and Wyoming. … The Horned Frogs defeated Texas-Pan American 70-58 at home on Wednesday.

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.

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