Changing starting lineups is not something UNLV coach Marvin Menzies does often, so it’s significant the rare times it occurs.
He made just one adjustment to the starting lineup last season, inserting forward Tervell Beck in place of guard Kris Clyburn for the final 13 games.
Other than a forced change at forward five games ago because of an injury, Menzies again has stayed with the same starters. That is until Wednesday against Colorado State when he went with a three-guard offense, countering with Amauri Hardy and bringing forward Mbacke Diong off the bench for the first time this season.
Hardy and Noah Robotham had split playing time at point guard, but both started and each played at least 29 minutes.
“We were getting more production when we were having Noah and Amauri on the floor,” Menzies said. “Noah’s going to play, so we wanted to start with a little more pop, and I felt it was good to get Noah off the ball a little bit and he hit some critical shots for us.”
Expect Menzies to stay with this new lineup when the Rebels (7-6, 1-0 Mountain West) play Wyoming (4-10, 0-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center. ESPNU will televise the game.
UNLV comes off a 78-76 victory over Colorado State, winning on a goaltending call with a second left. That was the Rebels’ only lead of the second half.
They had to have that victory given their first six games in conference play are against very winnable teams, and Colorado State has an NCAA NET ranking of No. 264 compared to UNLV’s No. 163. Wyoming is at No. 286.
A loss to the Rams would have been a tremendous setback, but now maybe the Rebels can use the grittiness they displayed in coming back as something to build upon.
“You always want to take a moment of adversity and you handle that challenge the right way, you always want to build off of that,” Menzies said. “I think more intuitively it teaches the young men that it’s not over until it’s over.”
Menzies’ first lineup change occurred five games ago when he had to replace forward Shakur Juiston, who suffered what turned out to be a season-ending knee injury. Freshman Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua went in his spot.
Then came Wednesday when the sophomore Hardy received his first career start. He responded with 11 points and nine assists, and was one four Rebels with a positive plus/minus rating (plus-6).
“I feel like I can contribute coming off the bench or starting in a huge way,” Hardy said. “It was great that we were able to get this win in my first start, and I think we had a great effort as a team.”
Menzies tends to downplay the importance of starting lineups, saving his emphasis for those on the floor at the end of games.
Diong was one of those players, and it was his tip-in attempt that led to the critical goaltending call in which Colorado State’s Nico Carvacho reached up through the basket.
Diong also had the Rebels’ highest plus/rating at plus-19 in 19 minutes of work.
“It reaffirms my feeling that it doesn’t matter who starts,” Menzies said. “Sometimes it’s a matter of who finishes, and that’s what he did. He was playing really, really hard in foul trouble. It says a lot to this character, and he’s consistently trying to give us everything that we ask for.”