Move to SG pays off big for UIC's Kreps

CHICAGO -- Life is good when UIC senior guard Robo Kreps plays well.

In the his past five games, Kreps is averaging 22.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and has made 18 3-pointers while shooting 48 percent from the field.

“I care so much about this game,” Kreps said. “I don’t really care what happens in class here or there. If I’m playing good basketball, life is a lot better. If we were winning, life would be even better.”

Kreps hopes to have the best of both worlds Wednesday when he faces inter-city rival Loyola for possibly the final time in his career. Kreps has a 5-3 record against the Ramblers in his four seasons, but Loyola has won the past three meetings, including a 68-59 victory earlier this season.

“No doubt about it, Loyola is one we always want to get,” said Kreps, who has averaged 10.1 points against the Ramblers. “I’ve played most of those kids my whole career. [Loyola senior Andy] Polka has been there since I’ve been here. I was 5-0 against them, and last year wasn’t that good. I want to get them back this coming game.”

Kreps also is eager to just get back on the court the way he has been playing recently.

“I can’t wait to play Loyola on Wednesday,” Kreps said. “The rim just feels so big right now. I feel like I’m going to make everything I shoot. My confidence has skyrocketed.”

Kreps and UIC coach Howard Moore credit his recent play to his confidence and switching positions. The Flames lacked offensive production, and Moore needed more scoring. With sophomore Corey Gray proving recently he could handle the point guard responsibilities, Moore made the logical move -- moving his best shooter to shooting guard.

Kreps wasn’t in love with the idea at first. He was comfortable with the ball predominantly in his hands, running the offense, distributing and shooting when needed. With the switch, he had to give up some of that.

“The first game I wasn’t pleased with it,” Kreps said. “I’ve since fallen in love with it. I’m getting more shots, getting more open shots. That’s helped my game out.”

Moore knew Kreps would come around.

“I don’t know if too many players would be upset if I said to them, ‘I need to get you more shots,’” Moore said. “I didn’t think Robo would fight me too much. I think it’s changed his mentality. The shots he was probably turning down at the point, he’s really hunting those shots. He’s being more assertive because his role has changed.”

Kreps needed two games to adapt to it. He shot 10 times against Cleveland State and nine against Youngstown State. In his third game at the shooting guard, he flipped the switch. He was 10 of 17 from the floor and scored 25 points against Detroit. A game later against Wright State, he was 7 of 15 from the field, made five 3-pointers and scored 20 points. In a win over Wisconsin-Green Bay last week, Kreps was 7 of 12 from the field, scored 21 points and drained a game-winning runner at the buzzer.

“He just has the heart of a lion,” Moore said. “He’s not going to back down in any situation. He’s always going to compete at the highest level. Even though our record isn’t great, he’s led this team to compete at the highest level. He’s not allowed this team to quit.”

Winning has been a struggle for the Flames, who are 7-20 overall and 2-13 in the Horizon League. Since upsetting Illinois on Dec. 18, UIC has gone 2-13.

The Flames’ record is somewhat deceiving. They have been competitive in nearly all their games. They lost five games by three points or less. They trailed Butler by one at halftime on the road. They lost by six points at Wright State. They led Detroit at halftime in their first meeting and were tied with the Titans at halftime in their second game.

“I’ll be honest with you, it’s been pretty hard,” Kreps said. “I’ve said this many times -- we’ve been around in every game. We’re right there, but we can’t get over the hump.

“It’s nice I’m playing well, but I still want to get those wins. At the end of the day, you have to perform in the conference tournament. Not a lot of teams get an automatic bid in our conference. We just got to stay aggressive and keep our confidence in the second half. The first half of the games we’re right there.”