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Kruger sees silver lining through cloud of injuries

Instead of moving into UNLV’s starting lineup as planned, junior forward Matt Shaw has been stuck in the trainer’s room while immobilized by an ankle injury.

Junior guard Derrick Jasper, who started the Rebels’ first 21 games, is keeping Shaw company.

A month ago, coach Lon Kruger was using an 11-man rotation, an extreme rarity late in the college basketball season. Kruger has shortened his bench, but not by choice.

"We were deep three weeks ago, and then all of a sudden we go through this stretch," Kruger said. "When you’re playing 11 people, nine seems really short. But in reality, nine is not an unusual number. We just don’t have any extras right now."

Kruger said Shaw is "doubtful" for Wednesday, when UNLV (20-7, 8-5 Mountain West Conference) meets Texas Christian (12-15, 4-8) at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Shaw, who sprained his left ankle during warm-ups before Wednesday’s loss at Utah, did not practice Monday. Kruger said he’s "hopeful" Shaw can return for Saturday’s game at Air Force.

The Rebels’ injury report seems to be swelling, but Kruger said the outlook is more encouraging.

"We feel good about positioning ourselves to be back at full strength within a couple weeks," he said.

The target date for Jasper’s return remains March 6 for the regular-season finale against Wyoming. Jasper suffered a partially torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee on Jan. 26.

Jasper, averaging 6.7 points and 4.9 rebounds, was expected to miss about five weeks and is on schedule. He could be cleared to practice full speed by early next week.

Senior forward Darris Santee practiced Monday and will play Wednesday. Santee made his first start of the season Saturday in UNLV’s 70-39 victory over Colorado State. He played 12 minutes and left early in the second half with a bruise near his abdominal area.

"Darris is fine. He responded to treatment," Kruger said. "When he said he couldn’t go back in there in the second half, I was a little concerned it might be longer. We just don’t have many big guys when you take Derrick and Matt out."

While the fourth-place Rebels continue to try to beat up opponents in the bottom half of the MWC standings, the league’s top three teams will be mixing it up in Provo, Utah.

Brigham Young (25-3, 10-2) hosts San Diego State (20-7, 9-4) on Wednesday and New Mexico (25-3, 11-2) on Saturday.

If the Aztecs lose to BYU, which can sweep the series, UNLV could seize the inside track on the No. 3 seed in the league tournament by virtue of tiebreakers. The Rebels split with the Cougars.

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

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