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UNLV’s Shaw finds comfort zone

A little time away from basketball was not a big concern to UNLV junior Matt Shaw. He expected to instantly regain his feel for the game after a year off because of injury.

He quickly found out differently.

"It kind of felt like I forgot how to play," Shaw said. "I didn’t know it was going to take that long, and how much work needed to be put into it. I’m starting to realize now it takes a whole lot, and what I was doing wasn’t cutting it."

Shaw, a 6-foot-8-inch forward, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in June 2008, forcing to him to redshirt and rehabilitate last season. Only now is he beginning to get back into a groove.

There won’t be as many awkward moments for Shaw when the Rebels (3-0) host Holy Cross (0-4) at 7 p.m. today at the Thomas & Mack Center.

"When I first came back, it was like my timing was off," he said. "I’m starting to feel more comfortable in games."

After scoring a total of seven points in limited action in UNLV’s first two games, Shaw found a comfort zone in the Rebels’ 78-69 victory over Southern Illinois on Saturday. He had 13 points — one shy of tying his career high — and three rebounds in 21 minutes.

Shaw stayed after practice Tuesday to shoot perimeter jumpers. He never has been a true back-to-the-basket scorer in the post, but he is focused on adding that dimension. He scored four points in the paint against the Salukis, made one mid-range jumper, shot 1-for-4 on 3-pointers and 4-for-4 on free throws.

"He’s a threat from the 3-point line and he can stretch defenses out," coach Lon Kruger said. "But he also needs to score in the paint for us, and he has done that too."

The Crusaders, picked to win the Patriot League, might give UNLV its most extensive look yet at a zone defense. Holy Cross plays a physical style and has skilled big men in 6-9 forward Andrew Keister and 6-8 center Eric Meister.

The production from the Rebels’ big men — Shaw, starting center Brice Massamba and senior forward Darris Santee — has pleased Kruger. Of the three, Shaw has the most scoring potential.

But the time off clearly left Shaw rusty, and junior guard Derrick Jasper and sophomore forward Chace Stanback are in similar situations. Jasper, a Kentucky transfer, and Stanback, a UCLA transfer, also redshirted last season.

Jasper and Stanback have started slowly, each scoring 7.7 points per game. Stanback missed two weeks of practice in October with an ankle injury.

"All three have their best basketball in front of them, and that’s the exciting thing," Kruger said.

Shaw is playing without a knee brace, which he said was too cumbersome. He said he has cleared most physical hurdles in his comeback, and he’s getting past the mental blocks.

"It’s not swelling up and it’s not really hurting," said Shaw, who started seven of 35 games and averaged 6.9 points as a sophomore. "Jumping for rebounds in crowds, I get kind of nervous about that. But I don’t think about it that much. I’ve just got to trust it.

"It was a decent game (against Southern Illinois), but I’m striving to do better. It’s not anything to really be that happy about. I’ve still got a lot of work to do."

NOTES — The Crusaders dropped close games to St. Joseph’s (69-67) and Loyola-Chicago (76-73) before a 92-75 loss at Rhode Island on Sunday. … UNLV won the only previous meeting with Holy Cross 92-75 on Dec. 29, 1980, in the Las Vegas Holiday Classic.

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

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