December 18, 2018 Currently: 55° | Complete forecast

Menzies mulling ways to match up with Illinois

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Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

UNLV Rebels guard Amauri Hardy (3) is defended by Valparaiso Crusaders guard Deion Lavender (2) during their game Wednesday, November 28, 2018, at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

UNLV head coach Marvin Menzies loves to play big, but on Saturday the Rebels may have to go small if they want to win their first road game of the season.

Illinois’ top three players are guards, and they play a lot of minutes together. Head coach Brad Underwood is committed to running out a lineup that includes the trio of sophomore Trent Frazier (15.1 points, 3.4 assists per game), freshman Ayo Dosunmu (12.2 points, 3.2 assists) and senior Aaron Jordan (10.6 points). They score, pass and shoot (combined 44.3 percent from 3-point range), and on Saturday they will try to create mismatches against UNLV’s more traditional alignments.

Menzies said that although Illinois is sporting a 2-7 record, the Illini’s multi-faceted backcourt has the potential to pose problems.

“They almost are at four guards a lot of times because of their versatility,” Menzies said. “They’ve got guys that can shoot it at multiple positions, they’re very, very aggressive defensively and they’ll deny you all over the place.”

UNLV has started a backcourt with two guards for all seven games this season, with seniors Noah Robotham and Kris Clyburn getting the call. But sophomore guard Amauri Hardy has played 22.0 minutes per game off the bench and is currently the team’s third-leading scorer (10.3 points per game), so the Rebels have the firepower to match Illinois’ three-guard lineup if Menzies chooses that route.

In the Rebels’ most recent game, a 65-61 loss to Cincinnati, Menzies found himself flooding the court with guards to a greater extent than we’ve seen so far this season. In that game, UNLV played with three guards on the floor for 23 minutes and 55 seconds; Cincinnati outscored the Rebels 45-42 during that span.

For the season, UNLV has fared well when playing three guards. In 86 minutes with a three-guard lineup, the Rebels have outscored opponents 165-133, which works out to a plus/minus rating of +14.9 per 40 minutes. In 194 minutes playing two guards, UNLV has outscored opponents 328-318 for a plus/minus of +2.1 per 40.

If Menzies goes small to match up with Illinois, it should present an opportunity for some of UNLV’s younger guards. Freshman Bryce Hamilton (17.6 minutes, 6.7 points) has flashed scoring potential, but at practice on Wednesday he said he is focused on making an impact at the defensive end.

“I feel I have good ability to be a good defensive player with my long arms and athleticism,” Hamilton said. “It’s just using that to my advantage and trying to do my best.”

Menzies also said there is playing time available for freshman guard Trey Woodbury, who is still working his way back from a knee injury that cost him most of training camp.

“I’m very optimistic [Woodbury] will be a contributor this year,” Menzies said. “I don’t have any reason to think that he won’t as he continues to get his wind back.”

Hardy staying on bench

Amauri Hardy has been one of UNLV’s most productive players despite seeing just 22.0 minutes per game in his reserve role. Fans are clamoring for Hardy to start, but Menzies likes his young point guard coming off the bench and wants him to continue thriving in that role for the time being.

“Right now he’s been coming off the bench for us and never complained a minute,” Menzies said. “Amauri’s just going to do what I ask him to do. We don’t have the ego guys where that would be an issue.”

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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