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Struggles take shine off Rebels

Optimism surrounded UNLV and senior guard Wink Adams in October, when a promising season seemed to await.

Thirty games later, it has been a march to a harsh reality. The preseason predictions that put Adams and the Rebels on a pedestal have been revised.

Adams was voted to the All-Mountain West Conference second team on Monday, one year after he was a first-team member and five months after he was tabbed preseason co-Player of the Year.

UNLV, the preseason pick to win the conference, has slipped to 21-9 overall and fifth in the league at 9-7 going into this week’s MWC tournament.

"Our season has been up and down, and everybody has been struggling with something," Adams said.

Senior guard Rene Rougeau was the Rebels’ only other honoree. Rougeau was named third team all-MWC and was one of five players voted to the all-defensive team.

Utah senior Luke Nevill, a 7-foot-2-inch, 265-pound center, was named Player of the Year and the top defensive player in voting by the conference’s nine head coaches and a media panel.

Nevill is joined on the first team by New Mexico senior Tony Danridge, Wyoming senior Brandon Ewing and Brigham Young guards Lee Cummard, a senior, and Jimmer Fredette, a sophomore.

The awards announcement was a subdued occasion for UNLV, which opens MWC tournament play against San Diego State (21-8, 11-5) at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center.

"I think awards should go to the players on the teams that win championships, and we always preach that to our guys," Rebels coach Lon Kruger said. "The team stuff comes first and then individual stuff comes, and that’s the way it should be."

Kruger was voted Coach of the Year in 2008, an award that went to New Mexico’s Steve Alford this year. The Lobos tied with Brigham Young and Utah for the conference title.

Almost all of Adams’ numbers have declined during his senior season. He ranks 11th in the MWC in scoring with a 13.8 average in conference games.

"I started off shooting bad and my confidence was low. I definitely got into a serious slump," Adams said. "Our chemistry kind of came along late. So it was a mixture of a lot of things."

Kruger said Adams was thrown out of sync by an early-season shooting slump and an abdominal injury in late December.

"Confidence is a huge thing, especially with a scorer. Wink always has been more of a scorer than he has been a shooter or anything else," Kruger said. "At moments, he’s had that swagger that he had over the last couple years, but not really consistently for a length of time."

Rougeau led UNLV in rebounding, blocked shots and field-goal percentage in conference games. He was second in the MWC in blocks (1.6 per game), third in field-goal percentage (55.7), tied for fourth in steals (1.4) and was ninth in rebounding (5.8).

"He’s had a great year," Kruger said. "I think if Rene would have had this year and had we shared the championship, then he maybe would have been first team."

With the Rebels on thin ice in terms of their NCAA Tournament hopes, Rougeau shrugged off what he has achieved as a former walk-on.

"At this point, winning is more important than anything," Rougeau said. "All the accolades, we’ll be happy about that down the road."

Instead of harping on missed opportunities and regrets, Adams said UNLV’s players must focus on salvaging the season.

"We’ve got to look forward," Adams said. "It’s like Coach said, ‘Whatever we get, that’s what we earned.’ After the season, we’ll look back on everything."

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.

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