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Walk-on’s minutes meaningful

If a UNLV game turns into a blowout, senior forward Rob Ketchum is waiting on the bench and hoping to get called in for mop-up duty.

Ketchum is a walk-on who joined the team in the middle of last season, when the Rebels needed another player for practices. At the time, he said, “I was just doing odd jobs, trying to work for a living.”

He never expected to play meaningful minutes, and he never had appeared in a Division I game until last month.

But when UNLV played at Colorado State on Jan. 14, coach Lon Kruger called for Ketchum early. The game was turning into a blowout, with the Rebels on the wrong end of it.

“I was pretty surprised,” Ketchum said. “We weren’t playing very well, and Coach was trying to find what would work and send a message.”

As UNLV fell behind 22-10, Kruger cleared the bench in the first nine minutes. He used 12 players, including walk-ons Scott Hoffman and Ketchum, who played two minutes and scored two points.

The Rams held on for a 71-69 upset to end their 19-game regular-season Mountain West Conference losing streak.

The result was a debacle for the Rebels and a low point for Kruger, who benched all of his starters and put walk-ons on the floor to make a point.

“We haven’t opened too many games like we did at Colorado State, so hopefully that doesn’t happen very often,” Kruger said.

UNLV (18-6, 6-4 MWC) gets a shot at redemption tonight when it hosts Colorado State (8-16, 3-7). It’s the Rebels’ only remaining game not being shown on television.

Kruger said he will continue to go with a starting lineup of four guards — Wink Adams, Oscar Bellfield, Rene Rougeau and Tre’Von Willis — and forward Joe Darger.

UNLV is a heavy favorite to rout the Rams, but Kruger said his players are more aware that there can be no more slipups with the NCAA Tournament around the corner.

“They understand it’s winding down,” Kruger said. “Six games goes by in a flash, so every one of them has got to be huge and important and you take nothing for granted.”

Colorado State, routed 94-60 at Brigham Young on Wednesday, is led by senior guard Marcus Walker and sophomore forward Andy Ogide.

Andre McFarland and Harvey Perry, former Las Vegas high school stars, combined for 14 points and eight rebounds last month as the Rams stopped the Rebels’ 11-game winning streak in the series.

“We did everything wrong,” said Willis, who shot 2-for-12. “That wasn’t how a Lon Kruger team plays.

“We do want to get after those guys because they beat us. We know our backs are against the wall.”

If Ketchum plays today, it probably will mean UNLV is winning big. He has appeared in only two games since the loss at Colorado State, getting two minutes in a win at Air Force and scoring two points in one minute in a 71-57 victory over Texas Christian on Tuesday.

Ketchum, on schedule to graduate this summer, will be honored with the Rebels’ other four seniors — Adams, Darger, Rougeau and Mareceo Rutledge — in the final regular-season home game March 4.

Ketchum played at Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif., from 2005 to 2007. He was in school at UNLV when assistant coach Greg Grensing called and offered him a chance to be on the practice squad.

“From where I was at a year and a half ago to now, I can’t complain at all,” Ketchum said. “I’ve always been about the team and whatever it takes to win.”

COLORADO STATE AT UNLV

RECORD: CSU 8-16, 3-7 MWC

COACH: Tim Miles (15-41, second season; 227-173 overall, 14th season)

PROBABLE STARTERS:

Player Pos. Ht. Ppg.

Andy Ogide F 6-9 9.9

Andre McFarland F 6-6 8.0

Jesse Carr G 6-2 9.0

Marcus Walker G 6-0 15.5

Willis Gardner G 6-1 9.4

RECORD: UNLV 18-6, 6-4 MWC

COACH: Lon Kruger (109-48, fifth season; 427-281 overall, 23rd season)

PROBABLE STARTERS:

Player Pos. Ht. Ppg.

Joe Darger F 6-7 9.8

Rene Rougeau G 6-6 10.6

Tre’Von Willis G 6-4 11.1

Wink Adams G 6-0 14.3

Oscar Bellfield G 6-2 6.4

 

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