UNLV’s Kruger betting on Keshon Gilbert to bounce back
UNLV is still looking for its first conference win and will need sophomore Keshon Gilbert to rebound after a difficult start to Mountain West play.
Kevin Kruger doesn’t consider himself a betting man. However, there’s one wager the UNLV men’s basketball coach is always willing to make.
“I’m going to bet on Keshon Gilbert,” Kruger said.
Gilbert was one of the early standouts of UNLV’s 10-0 start. The sophomore guard took a major step during the offseason, developing his perimeter shooting and taking over as the Rebels’ starting point guard.
Gilbert has struggled though since the Mountain West season began, something he admitted after practice Thursday.
“I’m good,” Gilbert said, “Slow start for me, but I’m good. My teammates pick me up, give me confidence every day, so everything’s good.”
UNLV is back on the road in conference play at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, when it faces No. 21 New Mexico at The Pit in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Lobos’ unbeaten start came to an end Tuesday, as they lost at Fresno State 71-67. UNLV hasn’t played since Dec. 31, when it was defeated by San Diego State 76-67.
The Rebels are still searching for their first conference win. They’re on a two-game losing streak and have dropped three of their last four games.
“We knew coming into this that we had a tough start to the schedule,” Kruger said. “But I think the week getting ready for what’s coming was good.”
Getting Gilbert back to his best will be critical for the Rebels (11-3, 0-2 Mountain West). The sophomore guard missed practices leading up to the Mountain West opener against San Jose State because he was stranded in St. Louis after traveling home for Christmas.
He joined the rest of the Rebels in San Jose just a day before their overtime loss to the Spartans. Gilbert came off the bench for the first time this season and looked predictably rusty.
The 6-foot-4-inch guard scored six points in 36 minutes, but went 3 of 13 from the floor and 0 of 3 from beyond the arc. Gilbert added some value back by doing the little things, adding six rebounds, three assists and two steals while committing no turnovers.
Gilbert’s struggles were magnified against San Diego State. Kruger reinserted him into the starting lineup, but the sophomore guard scored just one point in 28 minutes.
He went 0 for 4 from the field and 1 for 3 on free throws. He added two rebounds, three assists and two steals, but also committed six of UNLV’s 15 turnovers.
In Gilbert’s place, Kruger turned to fifth-year guard Jordan McCabe for a majority of the second half, simply because of the former West Virginia guard’s better ball security.
The UNLV coach pushed back against the idea he’d benched Gilbert after the game, but Kruger did admit he felt the sophomore guard was pressing.
The focus for Gilbert ahead of Saturday’s game against the Lobos (14-1, 2-1) is simply getting back into a rhythm.
The UNLV coach said there are technical and tactical improvements his starting point guard can make, but Kruger also believes Gilbert functions best when he’s having fun and competing hard.
So the coaching staff wants to foster those attitudes, too.
Kruger also says Gilbert is experiencing the pressure of being a high priority on opponent’s scouting reports. Early in the season, teams were simply daring Gilbert to shoot 3s, and he showed off his improved shot by going 18 of 35 — 51.4 percent — from 3 during nonconference play.
Now, opponents are closing him down. They’re learning his tendencies in the pick-and-roll. They’re challenging his ballhandling and playmaking abilities.
If the Rebels want to escape The Pit with a win, Gilbert will have to adapt. Kruger believes this is exactly the kind of challenge the sophomore needs.
“(Gilbert)’s one of those guys who’s going to see this, learn from it, grow from it,” Kruger said. “Everyone goes through it at some point.”
Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at email@example.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.