Dwaine Knight doesn’t like change.
The longtime UNLV men’s golf coach usually settles on a lineup and, barring injury or an academic issue, sticks with his starting five. But with his young team displaying inconsistency on the course, Knight decided to shake things up entering the Mountain West Conference championships, which begin today at the par-71, 7,144-yard Omni Tucson National Resort in Tucson, Ariz.
Knight has benched No. 4 junior Colby Smith and senior Jeremiah Wooding, who was playing in the fifth slot, replacing them with freshman Nicholas Maruri and sophomore Arthur Kim.
"I let the guys play for it," Knight said of the battle for the final two starting spots. "Nicholas and Arthur have both been coming on, and if one of them can give us two good rounds, I think we can compete."
Knight said his top trio of junior Derek Ernst, sophomore Kevin Penner and freshman Blake Biddle are solid and have played well most of the spring.
But to win the conference, something the Rebels last accomplished in 2002, other players will have to step up in the 54-hole event, which ends Saturday.
"You need four scores in conference," Knight said. "I think Tucson National fits our team well. It’s a big, open course, and our guys have been hitting it well off the tee of late. We played well there last month (in the National Invitational Tournament), and we’ve done a good job in our last two tournaments."
Knight said San Diego State, ranked No. 7 in the Golfstat Men’s Division I national poll, will be the team to beat. Other strong contenders should be Texas Christian and Colorado State, the defending MWC champion.
"They’re very talented and very experienced," Knight said of the Aztecs. "TCU has played well all year, and Colorado State came on and caught us last week at BYU, so I’m sure their confidence is high.”
UNLV, ranked No. 36 in the Golfstat poll, probably will be selected Monday as one of 81 teams for the NCAA Tournament. Regional play begins May 19, and the Rebels, who have been to the regionals 22 consecutive years, probably will stay out West in either Tucson or San Diego.
"Right now, we’re focusing on conference and trying to win," Knight said. "But we’ve had a good season, and even though we’re young, we’ve competed."
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.