Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009 | 2:20 a.m.
CEDAR CITY, Utah — Think of UNLV coach Lon Kruger as a mad scientist.
Kruger is going to keep tinkering with combinations until he figures out the perfect solution — for his starting lineup, that is.
Kruger sent out a lineup that was drastically different from any this season in Tuesday’s 77-59 victory against Southern Utah.
For the first time this season, junior guard Tre'Von Willis and sophomore center Brice Massamba started the game on the bench. Junior guard Kendall Wallace and junior forward Matt Shaw took their spots in the lineup.
“We are going to look at a lot of different lineups throughout the year,” Kruger said.
Kruger had a simple reasoning for not starting Willis, UNLV’s leading scorer. He said the team could not afford for Willis to pick up two early fouls, as he had in the last three games.
But Kruger said Tuesday’s game did not mean Willis would permanently come off of the bench.
“Not necessarily,” Kruger said. “We just have to make sure he doesn’t pick up two early fouls.”
Kruger also said he was pleased with how Shaw played in a starting role. Shaw played 17 minutes and had eight points and a block, while Massamba logged only seven minutes and one point.
There’s no telling what the starting lineup will be for Thursday’s home game against Weber State. With Kruger, there never is.
Diagnosing the first half woes
The Rebels once again struggled in the first half, before playing much better in the final 20 minutes.
Entering Tuesday’s game, UNLV had trailed at halftime in five of its last seven games. It only led 31-30 against Southern Utah and made a number of careless mistakes in the first half.
No one can pinpoint the exact problem, but Willis has some ideas.
“Maybe it’s a combination of things,” Willis said. “We need to talk more. Second half, we talked more. First half, we don’t talk as much and that takes away a lot of the help you can have.”
Chopping down the Thunderbirds
UNLV pulled away from Southern Utah in large part because of its full-court press defense for stretches of the second half.
A familiar defensive name played a major role in that effort. After appearing for only one minute in UNLV’s last game, Steve “Chop” Jones played 16 minutes and pestered the Thunderbirds.
“He gave us good energy,” Kruger said. “It was good to see his activity, especially when we pressed in the second half.”