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UNLV’s rotation shake-up paying off ahead of Fresno State rematch

When UNLV and Fresno State met less than three weeks ago, the Rebels were floundering.

UNLV had dropped five of its past six games entering the Jan. 21 matchup, and Fresno State took advantage, cruising to a 76-63 win behind senior guard Isaiah Hill’s 28 points.

Senior guard Justin Webster called the game one of the Rebels’ worst performances of the season.

“We just weren’t ready to play,” Webster said. “We didn’t come ready as a team. We didn’t come ready to defend.”

The Rebels (15-7, 4-6 Mountain West) get another shot at the Bulldogs (7-14, 3-7) at 8 p.m. Friday at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Rebels have won three straight since that Jan. 21 loss, which triggered a rotation shake-up by UNLV coach Kevin Kruger that has paid massive dividends.

During the past three games, the Rebels’ new reserve corps has outscored opponent benches 78-20.

“We had a really good flow of waves of guys coming in and making plays,” Kruger said.

The new reserve unit for the Rebels has mainly consisted of fifth-year guard Jordan McCabe, freshman forward Keyshawn Hall and sophomore wing Shane Nowell.

Each of the Rebels’ bench contributors brings something different. McCabe is a capable floor general whose ability to handle the ball and run the offense has been crucial on nights when starting point guard Keshon Gilbert has struggled with turnovers.

Hall is an offensive matchup nightmare for opposing reserve forwards, while Nowell’s defense and 3-point shooting have made him a strong role player with either the reserves or starters.

Kruger said Hall and Nowell, who played sparingly before Jan. 21, have benefited from not appearing on opposing scouting reports. Opponents have paid them more attention in recent games, but Kruger said it has been a good opportunity for both players to continue their growth.

They were also joined by senior wing Luis Rodriguez during the UNLV’s most recent outing, an 83-71 win against Colorado State on Tuesday. He returned in a reserve role after missing two games because of a groin injury he suffered Jan. 21 against the Bulldogs.

Rodriguez and Hall both reached double figures in scoring against the Rams, and UNLV’s bench outscored Colorado State’s by 31 points.

McCabe, Hall and Nowell will likely continue to be joined by one of UNLV’s high-minute wings. The Rebels can probably only start two of Rodriguez, Webster and Elijah Parquet.

“At this point, it’s about winning games,” Kruger said. “They know that. I think they’ve been around us, as a staff, long enough to know that if you’re getting results, you’ll stay out there longer.”

McCabe missed the Colorado State game with back pain, and he is questionable for Friday. Even without him, the Rebels’ reserves have a chance to continue impacting games, starting with the revenge matchup with the Bulldogs.

“There’s no drop-offs when they come in,” Webster said. “They’ve been great for us, and it’ll only get better from here.”

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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