Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Last year, UNLV went into San Jose State with only six healthy scholarship players. This year the venue has changed but the situation has not.
Right now the Rebels (13-11, 4-7) have six or seven healthy scholarship guys, depending on how you judge the bone bruise senior guard Jerome Seagears is dealing with in his shooting hand, as they prepare to host the Spartans (8-15, 3-8) at 7 p.m. in the Thomas & Mack Center. The game is streaming on ESPN3.
San Jose State is no longer the Mountain West pushover they once were, which makes this a little more precarious of a position for the Rebels, who are still big 14.5-point favorites. While the Spartans are winless on the road in league play, they’ve won three at home, including two straight, and those three victories are two more in conference play than they had in their first two seasons in the Mountain West.
“They’re significantly better,” said UNLV interim coach Todd Simon.
Unfortunately, Simon can’t really say the same about the health of his own team. Here’s the latest on the Rebels’ MASH unit:
• Freshman forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. is out indefinitely with a sprained knee. Simon said he hoped that Zimmerman would play again this season, but that’s very much up in the air and could be even doubtful.
• The plan for junior forward Tyrell Green has been to seek a medical hardship waiver after the season because of a variety of injuries, including tendinitis, and Simon said that’s still what they’re pursuing.
• Seagears practiced Tuesday after missing Monday’s practice because of hand and back injuries. He’s expected to play, which should give the Rebels seven scholarship players plus walk-ons Austin Starr and Barry Cheaney.
“You’ll see different looks,” Simon said. “We’re going to have to throw changeups to keep people on their toes.”
The Rebels slowed down Fresno State with a zone defense in Saturday’s 111-104 double-overtime loss. UNLV turned to that look out of necessity more than anything else, and they’ll have to do more of the same going forward.
Forward Dwayne Morgan, who has had a lot of problems with fouls, played 45 minutes against the Bulldogs in part because the zone helped to keep him out of trouble. Now that the 6-foot-8, 205-pound sophomore is the closest thing the Rebels have to a center, they need to do whatever they can to keep him on the floor.
A couple of days practicing the zone should help make guys a little more comfortable with the roles they now must play. Bigger than that, said sophomore Pat McCaw, the Rebels already believe they can make this work because for a long stretch on Saturday it did, as they erased a 17-point deficit before ultimately losing.
“Guys really rallied and stayed together,” McCaw said. “That’s a big deal for us.”
A dwindling roster means each remaining player becomes that much more important, and they’ll each have an opportunity to prove their worth. While San Jose State is improved, this is still the best UNLV could hope for in terms of an opponent and location to try out their new system of, well, whatever this might become.
“It’s pretty incredible, really mind-boggling, for the scenarios to occur the way they have,” Simon said. “… We’ve got to get creative.”