When Bryant Rucker practices for the University of Denver, he looks the same as any of his teammates.

Everyone seems to be working hard for coach Joe Scott.

In a game, Rucker doesn't necessarily stand out. He's 6 feet tall, not 6-8. But he offers intangibles that have helped the Pioneers win three consecutive games, the last two with Rucker in the starting lineup for the first time this season.

"We're playing better defense, and we're sharing the ball a lot better on offense," Rucker said. "I think I've been able to help a lot in those areas."

Scott said he believes Rucker has supplied a missing ingredient to his team's play on the court, using the word "chemistry" to define his point.

"We had been searching for a way to improve our defense," Scott said. "Bryant knows what he's doing. He has a nose for the ball on defense, and he has a way of being in the right place at the right time. That helps our other four players to execute so the offense runs smoothly. He's been the right piece to get us playing the way we want to. A lot of times, it's a matter of finding that one piece."

Rucker made the decision on a lineup change look brilliant. In his first game as a starter a week ago at Nebraska Omaha, Rucker tallied 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the floor, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range, collected five rebounds, three assists and two steals and had just two turnovers. He came back in his second start two days later at Western Illinois with eight points, two rebounds, three assists, one steal and one turnover. Rucker and the Pioneers may have jelled at a critical time, with three consecutive home games upcoming.

That stretch begins at 7 p.m. Thursday against South Dakota State. Summit League-leading North Dakota State comes in at 4 p.m. Saturday. A week from Saturday, South Dakota is here.