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UNLV’s wing rotation presents Kruger with interesting options

UNLV coach Kevin Kruger has some options. The Rebels are as healthy as they’ve been all season, creating an interesting opportunity for the second-year coach to assemble his new rotation.

Friday’s 82-79 loss to Fresno State was UNLV’s first game with a fully-loaded wing rotation since Dec. 10, when fifth-year swingman Elijah Parquet went down with a knee injury. The Rebels’ return to health has also created a bit of a selection dilemma.

“We just want to win,” Parquet said. “We just do whatever we need to do to win. Whatever coach tells us to do, we try to do that as best we can.”

Parquet and seniors Luis Rodriguez and Justin Webster have occupied most of UNLV’s wing minutes. Kruger chose to start Parquet and Rodriguez against Fresno State, returning Webster to a reserve role.

Whatever Kruger decides will be on display at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday when UNLV (15-8, 4-7 Mountain West) travels to face Wyoming (7-15, 2-8). The Rebels beat the Cowboys 86-72 at the Thomas & Mack Center Jan. 24.

“We’ve got to mix things up a little bit,” Kruger said.

Three of the spots in Kruger’s starting five feel fairly set. Sophomore guard Keshon Gilbert, who leads the Rebels in assists, has started every game except one. Leading scorer EJ Harkless is also entrenched in his spot, while senior Victor Iwuakor occupies the lone traditional forward role.

Parquet, Rodriguez and Webster each present different skill sets to enhance the starting lineup.

Parquet is the team’s best individual defender, and his presence was missed during his long injury layoff. UNLV is 13-1 with the former Colorado transfer in the starting five, with the lone loss being the team’s most recent defeat against Fresno State. Parquet scored three points, grabbed one rebound, added a steal and a block in 28 minutes, finishing minus-7.

Webster is one of UNLV’s best shooters, making 48.2 percent of his 3s. Against Fresno State, he struggled with his shot in his first appearance off the bench since Dec. 10, scoring five points on 2 of 6 shooting, including a 1 of 3 night from 3 in 28 minutes. However, he did add two assists and was plus-3.

“As long as I can go out and help these guys win, that’s all that matters,” Webster said.

Rodriguez falls somewhere between the pair. UNLV’s leading rebounder made his return to the starting lineup against Fresno State after missing two games with a groin injury and coming off the bench against Colorado State. Another strong defender like Parquet, Rodriguez scored nine points on 3-of-8 shooting and made multiple 3s for the first time since Jan. 11 to finish plus-6 in 26 minutes.

Kruger said he stuck with Rodriguez and Parquet because they’d played major roles as starters during the team’s unbeaten start to the season. He also appreciates their experience and defensive tenacity. Kruger added that players getting injured shouldn’t cost them their spot in the rotation.

The Rebels certainly have options at the wing. Now, it’s up to Kruger and the coaching staff to figure out how to best utilize the talent they have there.

“We’re not really worried about scoring or points or minutes like that,” Parquet said. “We just want to win.”

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

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