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Rebels’ Willis tries backup plan

A fixture in UNLV’s starting lineup the past two seasons, junior guard Tre’Von Willis will spend his second straight game in a backup role. One reason for that: Willis is bothered by a sore back.

Rebels coach Lon Kruger said Willis, the team’s leading scorer, needs help staying out of early foul trouble, too.

Kendall Wallace will get his second start in place of Willis when UNLV (8-1) hosts Weber State (5-4) at 7 p.m. today at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Willis, who scored 16 points in the Rebels’ 77-59 victory at Southern Utah on Tuesday, was limited in Wednesday’s practice but is expected to play extensively in the game.

“Tre’s back is a little bit iffy,” Kruger said. “We’ll keep him out of there to start with, partly because of that and to help him avoid two early fouls.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who have played a lot of minutes, so who starts is not the most important part of it all. We’ll have a lot of different starting lineups throughout the year.”

The Wildcats, defending Big Sky Conference regular-season champions, are on a four-game winning streak that started with an 83-76 home victory over Utah on Dec. 2. Before the streak, they lost 87-70 at Brigham Young on Nov. 27.

Sophomore guard Damian Lillard averages 19.6 points per game for Weber State, which often puts four guards on the floor with senior center Steve Panos.

“Lillard is a really good player,” Kruger said. “I like their team. It’s a good basketball team that is attacking on both ends of the floor.”

Kruger said junior forward Matt Shaw will start with forward Chace Stanback and guards Wallace, Oscar Bellfield and Derrick Jasper — the same lineup UNLV used against Southern Utah.

Bellfield, a starter in all nine games, said the Rebels will benefit as Kruger mixes and matches personnel combinations.

“It’s early in the season, so it is good to experiment,” Bellfield said.

Kruger is starting to experiment more with his post men.

Shaw had eight points and five rebounds in 17 minutes against the Thunderbirds. Senior forward Darris Santee produced four points and seven rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench.

Santee and Shaw appear to be jumping ahead of sophomore center Brice Massamba in the rotation. Massamba started the first eight games in the post, but he averaged just nine minutes in the past two games.

“As far as jump shooting, Matt is probably the biggest offensive threat we’ve got (in the post). He’s got pretty good awareness defensively,” Kruger said. “I think Darris has given us the most consistent minutes out of our big guys. We would throw him in there to start, but why change what has been a good thing for him?

“We talked to Darris about that. He has given us really good minutes in his role right now, and we’ll not disrupt that.

“(Shaw and Santee) have been more productive at this point. I think Brice at times has been productive, but we need more good possessions with him when he’s on the floor.”

Kruger wanted to use Wallace as a weapon against Southern Utah’s zone defense. Wallace shot 1-for-5 on 3-pointers, but the one he made put UNLV up 34-30 and triggered a 23-6 run to open the second half.

Willis, averaging 16.9 points and shooting 53.7 percent from the field, has started 26 of the Rebels’ past 28 games.

“Tre is real competitive,” Bellfield said. “He’s going to be ready for (today’s) game.”

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

 

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