Rebels hope little change is big fix

With no big men to lean on, UNLV coach Lon Kruger is making a small adjustment that should look familiar.

Kruger is turning back the clock one year and going to a four-guard lineup, hoping the shake-up will help turn the Rebels in the right direction.

Freshman point guard Oscar Bellfield has returned to Kruger’s favorite five, joining forward Joe Darger and guards Wink Adams, Rene Rougeau and Tre’Von Willis.

"It has been our most productive lineup," Kruger said. "That’s the lineup we went with basically all of last year, and it’s the lineup we’ve gone with a lot in late-game situations this year.

"We’re trying to play the people who give us the best chance to get results."

UNLV (17-6, 5-4 Mountain West Conference) will attempt to stop its third two-game losing streak of the season when it hosts Texas Christian (13-10, 4-5) at 7 p.m. today at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Junior forward Darris Santee, who has started 21 of the Rebels’ 23 games, is the odd man out for now.

In UNLV’s 73-69 overtime loss at New Mexico on Saturday, the 6-foot-8-inch Santee played only two minutes off the bench, and 6-10 freshman center Brice Massamba did not play at all.

Rougeau said a smaller, quicker lineup could help the Rebels take advantage of mismatches on the offensive end and apply more pressure defensively.

"Coach is trying to take it back to last year, where we’re flying around a lot more and trying to be more active," Rougeau said. "That’s what has been so successful for us the last two years, and Coach is basically trying to see what’s going to work the best for us.

"We’ve got to start trapping more, and we need to get more energy. We’ve got to have a better killer instinct."

Santee, averaging 6.5 points and 3.0 rebounds per game, has not provided a strong inside presence. But he’s not completely out of the picture, either.

Assistant coach Greg Grensing worked with Santee and Massamba for about 20 minutes after Monday’s practice, after assistant coach Lew Hill sat down both of the big men for a Sunday conversation.

"I told them, ‘You’ve got to help us win some games. Hey, don’t settle for sitting down, we need you,’ " Hill said. "There is still a lot of season left, and we need them to get better.

"But it’s about trying to win, and they haven’t been effective, so we go back to playing small ball."

Kruger first benched Santee and started a four-guard lineup in UNLV’s 80-73 loss at TCU on Jan. 10. The Horned Frogs’ 6-9 Zvonko Buljan exploited the Rebels with 20 points and 13 rebounds.

With the 6-6 Rougeau able to defend the post, Kruger can start Adams, Bellfield and Willis in the backcourt and count on the 6-7 Darger to be a bigger factor inside.

"Joe does a really good job defensively," Kruger said. "Joe’s one of the best post defenders in the conference, so we really don’t lose anything there, and then we gain on the offensive end."

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

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