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UNLV-UNM Notebook: Kruger continues to go with smaller lineup

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Justin M. Bowen

UNLV head coach Lon Kruger instructs the Rebels during a break in the action Saturday as UNLV took on the New Mexico Lobos Saturday in Albuquerque New Mexico at the Pit. The Lobos defeated the Rebels 73-69 in overtime; it was the second straight game UNLV has lost in overtime.

UNLV at New Mexico

Wink Adams lays it in over a New Mexico defender Saturday as UNLV took on the New Mexico Lobos Saturday in Albuquerque New Mexico at the Pit. The Lobos defeated the Rebels 73-69 in overtime; it was the second straight game UNLV has lost in overtime. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

UNM POSTGAME: Rebels fall into various Pits

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Ryan Greene, Rob Miech and Ron Kantowski reflect on their experiences on Saturday night at The Pit, where UNLV fell to New Mexico in overtime, 73-69. The guys talk about the infamous 'ramp,' break down the effect of René Rougeau's technical foul and whether the Rebels' season now again comes down to three games in March.

Beyond the Sun

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The message was clear at the start of Saturday’s game, when UNLV coach Lon Kruger went with a small lineup for the second time this season.

The first time Kruger chose to sit junior center Darris Santee, at TCU, he played six minutes. Freshman backup Brice Massamba didn’t play against the Horned Frogs.

The Rebels lost, 80-73.

When UNLV stepped onto the court inside The Pit on Saturday night, Santee stayed on the bench. Freshman guard Oscar Bellfield started for the first time in seven games.

The Rebels lost to the Lobos, 73-69, in overtime.

Santee played two ineffective minutes and Massamba never left the bench.

In UNLV’s past four games, it has gotten a combined 11 total points and 8 total rebounds from Santee and Massamba.

Last season, 6-foot-7 Joe Darger was forced to play the low post, especially on defense, because Kruger had a dearth of centers and true power forwards.

As this season has progressed, it’s looked more and more like Kruger’s best lineup, once again, is the small version, despite having genuine low-post players on the roster.

“We’ve got to find people who are getting production,” Kruger said, “get people on the floor who will give us as much production as we can get.”

He was short on the subject, which likely reflected the UNLV lineup that figures to see most of the action the rest of the way.

The first time

Never before had the Rebels lost back-to-back overtime games until the past week.

In their 51 seasons, they had played three consecutive games with extra sessions, in their third season of 1960-61. But an overtime win over San Fernando Valley was in the middle of a double-OT loss to Claremont College and an OT defeat to Cal Poly Pomona.

In February 2002, UNLV played its only other consecutive overtime games. And coach Chalie Spoonhour's crew won both, at Colorado State and at home against San Diego State.

The Rebels slipped to 4-4 in overtime games under Kruger.

Tough stretch

Always engaging, enthusiastic and personable, Rene Rougeau has been tested lately.

But he hasn’t ducked any cameras or microphones, and that’s the way he was – with eyes that appeared a bit glassy and red – in a narrow hall in The Pit late Saturday night.

With 4 1/2 minutes left in regulation, Rougeau was hit with the first technical foul of his career.

He had played 95 games without getting “T’d” up.

It hasn’t been a scintillating stretch for the 6-foot-6 senior swingman from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

Three games ago, he went scoreless, at Air Force, for the first time in 43 games.

Tuesday night, he missed a fastbreak layup inside the final minute of overtime that would have made a difference.

Then came Saturday’s technical in a game in which Rougeau tied a career mark with 13 rebounds.

He had soared for an offensive rebound, got called for his fourth foul and then he disputed it a little too fiercely at an official.

“I guess it was just me getting in his face,” Rougeau said. “I didn’t say anything foul to him. Basically, just have to be smarter and walk away from it, which is tough when you’re trying to go for every rebound.”

Was there reason to even whistle him for that foul?

“Either way, I have to be smart about it,” Rougeau said, “walk down and get another rebound.”

Kruger said he didn’t say anything to Rougeau about the technical after the game.

“(But) we probably will,” Kruger said.

Not good enough

For only the fifth time this season, UNLV connected on at least 75 percent of its free-throw attempts Saturday.

The Rebels dropped to 4-1 in such games.

In victories over Texas-El Paso (.769), Arizona (.786), Southern Utah (.765) and Wyoming (.778), UNLV fared well at the line.

Against New Mexico, the Rebels hit 15 of 20 freebies. The Lobos (21-of-25, 84 percent) were just a bit better, which was one of their slim edges in their victory.

Free throws

At the Mack on Jan. 3, New Mexico outscored UNLV, 38-18, in the paint. Saturday night, the Lobos had a 30-18 edge inside … for the first time in six games, sophomore guard Tre’Von Willis had a mediocre game. He had dished out 27 assists and turned it over only three times in his previous five games. Saturday, he had two assists and three turnovers, including stepping on the sideline at the end of overtime. He went 4-for-10 from the field to finish with 13 points. Friday morning, Willis received a cortisone shot in his right arm for the second time this season to relieve pain. He separated it in high school and it never healed properly, and he tweaked it Tuesday against San Diego State … UNLV committed only nine turnovers Saturday. It has had single-digit miscues in four of its past six games … assistant coach Lew Hill, who spent two days at Sunrise Hospital after feeling discomfort in his chest after the SDSU game, did not make the trip to New Mexico. All tests were negative. He was released from the hospital Thursday night and is expected back at the Mack on Monday … UNLV plays host to TCU on Tuesday night and Colorado State on Saturday night.

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