Kevin Kruger was looking for a little bit more from his starting lineup in UNLV’s game Wednesday night against Whittier.
So at the first media timeout, Kruger made wholesale substitutions, a bit earlier than he expected, and brought in his entire second unit. Immediately, the second unit provided a spark that helped UNLV blow out Whittier 101-45.
“I really liked how that second group went out and fought, played really hard, and they didn’t think about anything other than doing what they were asked to do when they went out there,” Kruger said. “That’s good for us as a team going forward, that you can get 10 guys to go out there, play hard and play together.”
In total, UNLV had 61 bench points led by Justin Webster who scored 17 points and Marvin Coleman who had 13.
At the time of Kruger’s first substitutions, UNLV only led 9-8. And once the second unit came in, the Runnin’ Rebels only allowed eight points from the Poets through the final 15:48.
Leading 19-13 midway through the first half, the Runnin’ Rebels went on a 14-0 run in a span of almost seven minutes. And a 16-0 run late in the first half to take a 37-point lead into halftime.
UNLV never let its foot off the gas in the second half, as Webster scored 10 second-half points and starter Donovan Williams had 10 of his 12 total points in the second half.
Webster, who had only scored three total points on the season with a made field goal, knocked down 7-of-10 shots and had a breakout game that he needed after a rough start to the season.
“It’s just about getting my rhythm,” Webster said. “I had a great week of practice this week, as far as shooting the basketball and finishing at the hoop. Today I just wanted to come in and play with confidence… Today was a rhythm game and hopefully we can carry that through the rest of the season.”
All 13 players who stepped on the court for UNLV scored at least two points. Walk-ons and locals Trey Hurlburt and Cameron Burist provided the loudest cheers of the night when Hurlburt made a nice move on his layup, and Burist knocked down a 3-pointer.
Coming off two losses at the Roman Main Event, Kruger was encouraged to see everyone contribute and have their moments in this tune-up game before the big matchup against No. 2 UCLA.
“To have those guys go out there tonight and see some shots go in, hopefully, it will give them that little burst to go out there on Saturday (against UCLA) and have confidence,” Kruger said.
Kruger said he will start the same five of Jordan McCabe, Mike Nuga, Bryce Hamilton, Williams, and Royce Hamm against No. 2 UCLA Saturday afternoon. He wasn’t going to punish them for not playing hard, but he wished they had a bit more tenacity to start the game, which should help them against UCLA.
As Kruger works with his new group in his first season as head coach, he knows the importance of having depth, which many established programs, like Michigan, Wichita State, and UCLA, all have.
“(The second group) went out and took advantage of the minutes that they had out there. And just went out and played hard, played fun and kind of separated the teams there, widened the gap a little bit and just never looked back.” Kevin Kruger
UNLV will put its focus on the Bruins Saturday at 2:00 p.m. They’ll practice on Thanksgiving and again on Friday to get ready for its biggest home non-conference game of the season.
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