Energetic Rougeau keeps Rebels’ wheels in motion

Believe it or not, UNLV junior Rene Rougeau is not in perpetual motion. It seems as if he defies laws of physics on the basketball court, and it’s nearly impossible to imagine him ever running low on energy.

If he’s not diving for loose balls, hustling after offensive rebounds or taking charges, the 6-foot-6-inch guard is defending 7-foot centers, deflecting passes and driving to the basket.

But, it’s true, there are times when he tires. He does not exist in a perfect vacuum that allows him to run forever.

"I just get a lot of rest. I sleep a lot," he said. "I take naps after practice."

If opposing teams fall asleep on Rougeau, though, they regret it. And nobody knows that better than Rebels coach Lon Kruger.

"He’s really an opponent’s worst nightmare because he’s so active," Kruger said. "Rene’s relentless. I mean, he never stops moving and he’s going all the time. He’s a coach and a teammate’s dream, but an opponent’s nightmare."

As one UNLV fan declared after watching Rougeau last weekend in the Mountain West Conference Tournament: "This kid is Dennis Rodman."

Only Rougeau is not covered in tattoos, does not dye his hair and is nowhere near as crazy off the court.

"Rene has been such a big part of what we’ve been doing," said Kruger, who is taking the Rebels to the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.

UNLV (26-7) is the No. 8 seed in the Midwest Region and will play No. 9 Kent State (28-6) at approximately 11:55 a.m. Thursday in a first-round game at the Qwest Center at Omaha, Neb.

Rougeau was named to the all-tournament team Saturday after his eight points and 10 rebounds helped the Rebels beat Brigham Young 76-61 in the Mountain West final.

After a scoreless first half in which he had only three rebounds, Rougeau got rolling. Kruger set up the first play of the second half for Rougeau, who made a 15-foot jumper and scored six points in six minutes.

"I was struggling," Rougeau said. "I was glad Coach drew up a few plays for me and let me go ahead and attack them."

In three Mountain West tournament games, Rougeau averaged 12.3 points and 10.0 rebounds. He shot 7-for-7 and had four steals in a quarterfinals victory over Texas Christian. He had 11 rebounds, six offensive, in a semifinals victory over Utah.

"That was A-1 on our board, cutting Rougeau out," Utes coach Jim Boylen said. "We didn’t get it done. That’s what he does. That’s how he helps them win."

Rougeau also defended Utah’s 7-1 center, Luke Nevill, and BYU’s 6-11 center, Trent Plaisted. On the offensive end, he used his quickness to drive around each big man and score with ease.

Though listed as 6-6, 205-pound guard, Rougeau plays more like a forward, being that he has made only one of UNLV’s 253 3-pointers this season.

"I guess you could say I’m a swingman," he said. "Everyone has a role they have to play. There are other guys knocking down 3s. You’re going to need somebody to rebound."

In the Rebels’ three-game run in the NCAA Tournament last year, Rougeau played a total of five minutes. But he said he learned how to be a leader by watching the team’s five seniors — Joel Anthony, Gaston Essengue, Kevin Kruger, Michael Umeh and Wendell White.

Now, he’s averaging 27.4 minutes and showing the way along with senior Curtis Terry and juniors Wink Adams and Joe Darger.

"He’s a guy who does it all for us," Terry said. "He’s irreplaceable right now. If we didn’t have Rene, we would be in a tough spot."

Rougeau, from Etiwanda High School in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., walked on the UNLV team and redshirted in 2004. He still is not on scholarship and is paying his way through school.

"You should always love to play basketball," Rougeau said. "It’s just being hungry all the time for success. It’s outworking the other guy. I definitely want it more than the next guy.

"Coach always talks about whoever wins the game is the person who wants it the most. I was taught in high school that there’s always someone out there who’s going to be much better than you, so you’ve got to outwork that person."

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

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