UNLV hoops notebook: Kruger’s curious starters

The Rebel Room

TCU POSTGAME: Rebels fall after playing small

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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech discuss UNLV's first Mountain West loss of the season, as the Rebels fell to TCU on Saturday afternoon in Fort Worth, 80-73. The guys talk about just what went wrong after Lon Kruger went with a smaller lineup to start the game, then stuck with it for much of the afternoon. Plus, a look a bit down the road at just how UNLV can make up for their first league stumble. Also, is TCU for real in the MWC race?

Box score

FORT WORTH, Texas – UNLV coach Lon Kruger started a curious lineup Saturday against TCU.

He benched center Darris Santee in favor of guard Wink Adams, who returned to the first five for the first time since injuring a lower abdominal muscle Dec 23.

Freshman Oscar Bellfield and sophomore Tre’Von Willis were the guards with Adams, René Rougeau was the swingman and power forward Joe Darger was left to man the post.

That has proven to be the Rebels’ best quintet.

However, it was a complete departure for Kruger to scrap any attempt at establishing Santee or freshman reserve Brice Massamba at center.

They have been ineffective much of the season, but Kruger and his staff at least tried to get them minutes.

Not so Saturday.

Santee played six minutes, hitting his only shot. He had three fouls and one turnover.

In the brief time he was on the court, TCU junior forward Zvonko Buljan drilled a 3-pointer on Santee from the top of the key to give the Horned Frogs a 61-57 lead.

That came during TCU’s game-changing 15-0 run.

Santee got lost down low on a screen.

Massamba did not get in a game for the first time as a Rebel.

That might not have surprised anyone who saw practice Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center, when Massamba mostly ran with the scout team.

Walk-on senior forward Rob Ketchum took Massamba’s spot in the regular rotation.

Santee said Kruger told him before Saturday’s 80-73 loss to TCU that he wasn’t going to start.

“He said he wanted me to get more hungry and to get that hunger I had before, when we were fighting for spots at the beginning of the season,” Santee said. “It’s hard to deal with, but I’ve got to get back in the gym and work hard.”

Shooting strong

Sophomore guard Kendall Wallace tied a career high that he had set two other times when he played 23 minutes against TCU.

He hit all four 3-pointers he took, grabbed two rebounds, and had an assist and a steal. Over his past six games, he’s 12-for-20 from 3-point range.

He couldn’t buy a basket in practice Thursday. “Save it for the game!” assistant coach Lew Hill yelled at Wallace. “Save it for the game!”

Wallace bristled when asked about playing pivotal, late minutes in a tight game on the road.

“I’ve been playing tight games all my life,” Wallace said. “It’s not any different for me, but we just weren’t able to get stops at the end. They made plays at the end and we didn’t.

“They were able to knock down shots and do what they wanted to. You’ve got to give credit to them. They played a great game.”

Kruger turned up the heat on the Rebels, on defense, all week in practice.

“It’s disappointing,” Wallace said. “But we need to move on from this and make sure we learn from this. That’s the key. You learn a lot from losses and get a lot of motivation from them.”

Bombs away

UNLV launched a season-high 34 attempts beyond the 3-point arc against the Horned Frogs and hit 15.

For those scoring at home, the Rebels established school records when they hit 21 3-pointers and attempted 46 at UNR in 1990.

It figured that they would put up a few long-range shots when Kruger started that smaller lineup.

It was the most bombs that UNLV took in 370 days, since it went 11-for-37 from beyond the arc in a 65-62 victory at Colorado State.

Injured wheel

Bellfield only played 22 minutes, scoring seven points and dishing out two assists, while battling a hamstring injury.

When TCU went on its game-deciding 15-0 run, Bellfield was off to the side of the bench, laying down and stretching his legs.

“A little hamstring,” Kruger said. “He tried to go … couldn’t go. I haven’t seen him after the game. I’m not sure.”

Free throws

Wink Adams scored 9 points and has 1,624 career points, moving into 13th on all-time career scoring list. Larry Johnson is now 14th, with 1,617 ... Several TCU players wore gray T-shirts that read “Trust The System” as they warmed up for the late Saturday afternoon game … UNLV coach Lon Kruger is 7-1 against the Horned Frogs as the Rebels’ boss … UNLV dropped to 4-1 on the road this season and plays at Colorado State on Wednesday night … the Frogs beat the Rebels, 32-23, on the boards. UNLV has lost that battle in 10 of its past 13 games … for the first time this season and only the second time since he became a starter last season, Rougeau had no steals and no blocks … TCU assistant coach Bill Wuczynski spent five seasons on UNLV’s basketball staff in the late 1990s.

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  1. The thing that you need to learn from this Kendall....is that this is a bad loss to a mediocre team. I don't care what anybody is reporting, tcu is average.

  2. If TCU is average, what does that make UNLV?

  3. I hate to say this, but a team that can't shoot free throws, can't rebound, has no penetration offense, and lacks in defensive intensity is BELOW average and less than "mediocre". This particular UNLV team, at this junction of the season, is at best 4th or 5th in the conference. And that is being optimistic.
    It's time for the team to step up.
    It's time for fans to bring extra support for the team.
    And it is time for the coaching staff to come up with a new plan... FAST.

  4. oh no, the sky is falling, the sky is falling!!!

    a) if you don't watch TCU basketball on a regular basis you shouldn't be judging their team

    b) Look at Coach Kruger's history. If the Rebels learn from this loss and don't lose another for 4 or 5 games. We're still on track. Start worrying when the sky is REALLY falling.

  5. Rob...it makes them, as StlRunnin said, average....or below average...for that one game and more than likely the last two.

    If you recall Rob, last year we lost to a bad Air Force team early in conference play on the road. Did that mean that UNLV was below average? Of course not. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying the sky is falling and I'm not jumping off of the proverbial bandwagon, I'm saying that I don't understand any of the effort or strategies of the last two games. Look, Wink may be 100% healthwise, but he is obviously rusty. Should he have been the one jacking up the shots at the end of the game? It's arguable, he was missing badly and some of them were forced when they didn't need to be. (especially that spin move towards the end when we were down by 2) And of course, it's hard to argue strategy with Lon, even with the big men getting almost no minutes. But....we lost and getting annihilated on the boards, again, points toward those thoughts of....what the crap?

    However, if the effort was there defensively, all this is would be irrelevant.