UNLV basketball:

Rebels to unveil a new starting lineup when they take on Cal State Bakersfield

Khem Birch will replace Quintrell Thomas as the starting center for UNLV, which will still play without Mike Moser

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Khem Birch watches a free throw along with Chicago State’s Nate Duhon, left, and Jeremy Robinson during their game Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the game 74-52.

Khem Birch's move to UNLV’s starting lineup always seemed a question of when, not if.

On Friday, UNLV coach Dave Rice said the answer is now, as Birch will make the first start of his Rebels career Saturday night at 7 when UNLV (12-2) hosts Cal State Bakersfield (6-11) on Time Warner Cable SportsNet.

Rice said after Thursday’s 74-52 victory against Chicago State, which included Birch's first double-double as a Rebel, that Birch’s role would likely increase in the near future. On Friday Rice confirmed that that will include Birch replacing senior Quintrell Thomas in the starting lineup at center.

“I feel like it’s time to put him in the starting lineup and bring Quintrell and Carlos (Lopez-Sosa) off the bench,” Rice said. “I’m very confident in those two guys in those roles.”

Since becoming eligible for the Rebels’ game at UTEP, Birch has played the most minutes at center each of the last four games. So while the move should give him a few more minutes per game on the court with freshman Anthony Bennett — a pairing that’s been better than advertised thus far — it won’t necessarily mean more total minutes just yet.

Birch is averaging 21.8 minutes per game and 23.8 over the last four games. Rice said the move isn’t guaranteed to come with more court time — UNLV’s four regular starters average about 28 minutes per game — though it’s easy to imagine that Birch could continue to improve and play himself into more opportunities.

After Thursday’s game, Birch was asked about potentially starting games and took a very diplomatic approach, saying he didn’t think it would be fair for him to start ahead of guys who had come before him. That’s a nice thing for a teammate to say, but Birch has essentially been the starter for the last two weeks. This just makes it official.

In other lineup news, Mike Moser confirmed that he will miss his second straight game as he and Rice wait for the junior forward to get closer to 100 percent.

“I would love to play, but at the end of the day I feel like next week will be a little bit more important,” said Moser, referring to the beginning of Mountain West play on Wednesday at New Mexico.

UNLV forward Anthony Bennett puts his arm around injured teammate Mike Moser during their game agasint Chicago State Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the game 74-52.

UNLV forward Anthony Bennett puts his arm around injured teammate Mike Moser during their game agasint Chicago State Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the game 74-52.

Though he expects to play in that game, Moser wouldn’t guarantee that he’d be ready because he thought he would be good to go Saturday, too. Since suffering a dislocated right elbow on Dec. 9 at Cal, Moser has sped through his rehab. He was expected to miss at least four weeks yet he played 12 minutes at North Carolina, which was less than three weeks after the injury.

While Moser made rapid progress in those early weeks, he’s now having a hard time getting over the final hump. There haven’t been any setbacks, Moser said, but it’s still tender and the muscles around his elbow are too weak to do everything he wants to do, like follow through on shots.

“I could shoot 10 shots and pretty much all of them right now are different,” Moser said.

Watching the game from the bench gives Moser a different view of the game, one he said has been far more informative than he expected. Specifically, he sees the Rebels lacking the ability to grab a rebound and push in transition the way they really want to, the way he’s known for as a one-man fast break.

“I can’t wait to get on the court and solve some of those issues,” Moser said.

Until he does, UNLV won’t be able to get everyone it wants into the rotation to begin working on the inevitable kinks that will come with guys trying to figure out their roles. That process was supposed to begin after Birch became eligible, and while his development has gone well (see: new starter) Moser’s injury has delayed the Rebels. Considering how UNLV finished the final two months last season, though, maybe that’s OK.

“I don’t know if that’s such a bad thing,” Moser said. “Last year we peaked around this time and started going downhill. I don’t think we are even close to our peak yet.”

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. This is not a disciplined team. Changing the lineup won't matter when there are five me's and no we's on the court for the Rebels. They will need to sneak in a 6th player on the court somehow come Pitt Time.

  2. Once the Rebels figure out how to stop the silly turnovers, they will be unstoppable.

  3. Lmao Robert is hilarious. This team has been stopped even when TO's were low. Calm down. They can't win the the road and they are averaging 19 TO's the last two games. Until they clean their mess up, even the NCAA tournament is bleak. They're playing for NIT seeding right now.

  4. Give it a rest already. I read these blogs and laugh with all these fans waiting for the Rebels to play perfect basketball. Its not going to happen, it doesn't happen anywhere. The rebels will get better, but doubt they will turn into the dream team. If things click, they will be pretty good, but still beatable. If it doesn't, well, you adjust and keep trying and see how things work out, and maybe it clicks at the right time and you make a run in the tournament. Nothing more nothing less.

  5. And when Moser comes back in, the offense and defense will be far too discombobulated. It sucks for moser because he's going to have a horrendous season and will HAVE to come back next year, which is great for the rebels because they should be much better next year.

  6. Here's the deal...the elbow may heal, but the range of motion will be off for weeks....if there's no re injury....the effect that will have on shooting a full jump shot is catastrophic....free throw shooting....3's...they won't be the sme for probably 4 - 6 months.......mike could stil contribute this yer, but he'll be a shadow of former self....

  7. If mike has smart people around him, he'll come back next year......scouts will see him either shooting poorly or not much and get a bad report on him...the injury won't justify it to most in the media who simply see a box score or a Espn.....mike should be patient....players need the hype they get to go high in draft....his hype will die down.....and hell be a second round pick....if he's slated as a second round then you gotta go back to school.......however if he comes back next year, he would get a lot of publicity for that and start the year. Off as a top guy...........mike.....chill...enjoy this year and prep for next year.

  8. The Rebels are 9th in the country averaging 17.6 assists per game. If that's not the description of a "WE" team you have odd criteria.

  9. A 12-2 record, among the Top 10 in the nation on assists and rebounding, while still sorting rotation and line-up. Sounds decent to me.

  10. How about coach get's Bryce D. Jones to block out his man on the defensive boards

  11. Let's just get a win and play a full game with high intensity.

  12. Sinatra when you sound sane there is something wrong with our posters. 13-2 with freshmen, injuries, Jones and Birch sitting out a year a lot of winning ugly early on the boys will be ready come MWC tourney time. Effort will be there,
    Go Rebs

  13. Q has been playing too well this year to end up playing such limited minutes. More Q, please.