UNLV’s Willis to miss Air Force game with sore knee

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Over the past month, Anthony Marshall has arguably been UNLV’s most valuable player. So it makes sense that the sophomore guard is no longer beginning games on the bench.

"Anthony is doing great. We don’t know exactly how, but we’ll slide him into that starting spot one way or another," coach Lon Kruger said Thursday.

On Friday, Kruger found out whom Marshall would replace.

But the decision was made for Kruger when senior guard Tre’Von Willis, hobbled by a sore right knee, was ruled out for today’s game at Air Force. Willis was unable to practice and did not accompany the team on the trip so he could continue treatment.

The Rebels, 13-4 overall and 1-2 in the Mountain West Conference, will find out how much they miss their No. 2 scorer when they face the Falcons (10-5, 1-1) at 3 p.m. at Clune Arena.

Willis’ injury is not considered serious, and Kruger said it is unrelated to the knee surgery Willis had in August. Willis, averaging 12.0 points in 15 games, could be ready for Wednesday’s home game against Colorado State.

So Marshall and Willis are trading places again. Marshall started the season’s first 10 games before Kruger promoted Willis to the lineup.

Marshall was UNLV’s leader in scoring (11 points) and hustle plays in a 55-49 loss at No. 6 San Diego State on Wednesday. Willis banged his knee in a late-game collision.

"I’m just going to try to bring the energy from the start," Marshall said. "We know we haven’t been playing great basketball. We know we can do so much more, and we’re all motivated to do better.

"We’ve got to play harder and get back to that basketball that we were playing earlier in the season."

The Rebels are 10-1 with Marshall as a starter. While the team’s results have declined, Marshall has increased his production. In the past six games, five as a reserve, he averaged 13.7 points and shot 61.7 percent from the field.

"I feel like I’ve been working hard," said Marshall, averaging 10.4 points overall. "I just have to contribute to helping the team either way, whether it’s starting or coming off the bench."

In the Rebels’ 77-47 victory at Air Force last year, they made 13 3-pointers. But poor perimeter shooting has plagued them in recent weeks. The Rebels are 4-for-34 from 3-point range in their past two games, including 1-for-18 against San Diego State. Willis made the only 3.

Several players are fighting shooting slumps. Leading scorer Chace Stanback shot 4-for-17 on Wednesday, point guard Oscar Bellfield is 7-for-28 in the past three games and senior guard Derrick Jasper is 4-for-19 in the past three.

"We need the guys who took the shots (Wednesday) to be taking shots," Kruger said. "We need Oscar, Anthony, Tre and Chace to be the guys shooting jumpers.

"Confidence with regard to shooting is an amazing thing. It affects everything. When you’re making shots, you feel good about everything. When you’re not making shots, you kind of get overwhelmed by that."

Jasper, who has started all 16 games he has played, was a candidate to go to the bench today if not for Willis’ injury.

"I think Derrick’s confidence is not where it was two weeks ago for sure," Kruger said. "We would like to see it get back there, but there’s nothing like making shots to help that out."

Air Force, which opened league play with a 77-69 home victory over Utah, has been preparing for this game since a 10-point loss at Brigham Young last Saturday.

The Falcons are a better 3-point and free-throw shooting team than the Rebels, who would dig a deep hole in the conference race with another loss.

"The conference is tougher, so once you get down, it’s pretty hard to come back," Marshall said. "But any time you panic, that’s when things start going downhill. So we’ve just got to keep our composure."

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

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