Resilient Rebels tested anew


Fighting off a case of the flu was the least of Lon Kruger's problems last weekend. UNLV's basketball coach was dealing with two headaches that figuratively rated as migraines.

Sophomore guard Marcus Lawrence was arrested and charged with driving under the influence Friday, leading to his dismissal from the team Monday.

On top of that setback, the Rebels were hit hard on the court Saturday in a 26-point loss at Brigham Young.

But even after a terrible turn of events, Kruger remains calm and refuses to walk around like a guy down on his luck. His team is following its leader.

"I don't think players dwell on those things very long," Kruger said. "I think basically it's behind them. We've had two good practices."

UNLV, 19-6 overall and 8-3 in the Mountain West Conference, has plenty of time to prepare before playing at Wyoming (10-15, 3-9) on Saturday. It seemingly qualifies as a must-win game for the Rebels in the event they have to rely on an at-large invitation to the NCAA Tournament.

"We've got five (league games) left and we'll approach each of them as a game we have to win," Kruger said.

In the aftermath of Lawrence's release and UNLV's worst loss all season, Kruger said this season has been one of the most "unusual" of his 22-year college coaching career.

While the Rebels are exceeding expectations in many respects, they have been handling distractions and personnel losses since practice opened in October.

"From the beginning of the year, we've had off-the-court things going on with a couple players, and you never expected it to be like this," junior guard Wink Adams said.

The first surprise to blind-side UNLV was an NCAA ruling that forced 7-foot freshman Beas Hamga to redshirt due to academic reasons. That is a separate issue -- and potentially a positive one -- because Hamga remains a big part of the program's future.

After the season's first game in November, junior center Emmanuel Adeife protested his lack of playing time and was dismissed. Before the Mountain West opener in January, sophomore forward Lamar Roberson, unhappy with his reserve role, decided to transfer.

Roberson followed Adeife to Louisiana-Lafayette. Lawrence, the third player to be subtracted from the roster, is expected to transfer after the semester.

"Three different reasons, three different things coming up," Kruger said. "But that happens.

"Especially in this day and age, it seems like when young people aren't playing as much or playing the role they want to, it's easier to jump up and go somewhere else."

The Rebels, who last week lost walk-on Rob Ketchum to a broken left hand, have 12 players able to practice. That includes two redshirts -- Hamga and Memphis transfer Tre'Von Willis -- so there are 10 players on the active roster.

Kruger said the reduced roster is "no problem." Adams said the personnel losses can be overcome.

"Everybody has just got to learn how to mature," Adams said. "There have been a lot of immature reactions going on, and we've just got to get through it and stay together.

"We've still got our heads up. It's crucial now, it's coming down to crunch time, and that's probably what we kind of expected at the beginning."

Senior guard Curtis Terry said the team knows how to deal with absence of Lawrence.

"We've had practice with it before, if you want to put it that way," Terry said. "We're ready to regroup."

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

 

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