Rougeau scored a team-high 19 points, including a couple of thunderous dunks, to go along with five steals, five rebounds and three assists to help lead the Runnin' Rebels (7-2) to a 84-71 victory before a crowd of 4,924.
Junior forward Joe Darger added 17 points and six rebounds and guards Curtis Terry (15 points, five assists) and Wink Adams (14 points, six assists, six rebounds) also had big nights for UNLV.
Rougeau, who learned of his starting assignment two days earlier at a team film session, took the spot normally occupied by sophomore center Matt Shaw.
"It was a surprise to me at first, too, to be honest with you," Rougeau said. "It was still a surprise to hear them call my name in the starting lineup. A nice surprise."
It didn't take long for the move to pay dividends. Rougeau connected on a 17-footer to tie the score, 2-2, then stole the inbounds pass. He had 10 points and three steals in the first 13 minutes alone as UNLV bolted to a 33-10 lead en route to a 52-25 halftime advantage.
"I thought Rene was just terrific from start to finish," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "His activity and enthusiasm was as it is every day. I'm really happy for Rene, but I'm happy for the whole group. I thought they played really, really well."
We really feed off his energy, and that was evident tonight," Terry said of Rogeau's high-energy style. "From the very beginning he was getting out in lanes and getting steals and transition points. He speeds up the tempo for us, and that is something we need. He does a great job of bring us energy. He did a great job tonight."
"Coach says to just go out there and play and do all the little things," Rougeau said. "That's what I do best … just trying to do the little things for the team."
Terry said he wasn't surprised when Kruger made the change to the starting lineup on Saturday night.
"Everybody knows that he has been doing a lot of good stuff for us all year," Terry said. "He's been flying around and doing a bunch of different things in practice and in games. And (Kruger) probably decided to make a change to see if Rene could bring that energy to start the game and see if we could get off to a good start. And it worked out."
Did it. The Rebels played arguably their best half of basketball since last year's NCAA Tournament upset of Wisconsin.
"That was a great half," Terry said. "Almost half way through they had 10 points. We were really making the extra pass for each other. A lot of guys were making shots and creating plays. And defensively we were getting stops."
Fresno State (5-4) bounced back to nail 9 of its 18 3-point tries to outscore the Rebels, 46-32, in the second half, but by then the damage was too much to overcome for Steve Cleveland's Bulldogs, who trailed by as many as 29 points midway through the second half.
"The second half we let down a little bit, and to their credit they made shots," Terry said. "We're still trying to work on piecing two good halves together and to try and play a complete game."
Two key Rebel reserves, sophomore forward Lamar Roberson and junior guard Mareceo Rutledge, suited up but did not play in the game. When asked why afterward, Kruger responded: "Mo and Lamar had a day in practice where they just weren't too interested. And we can't afford to give away days, so … Hopefully we'll get a better consistent effort."
The Rebels return to action on Dec. 19 against Arizona at the Thomas & Mack Center.
An electrifying first start for Rougeau
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