UNLV's NCAA Road Leads To Omaha
March 16, 2008
LAS VEGAS - Two-time defending Mountain West Conference tournament champion UNLV will travel to Omaha, Neb., to face Kent State at the Qwest Center Omaha in the first round of the 2008 Division One NCAA Men's Basketball Championship on Thursday. Game time for the CBS broadcast will be at approximately 11:55 a.m. PT (1:55 p.m. Omaha time).
The Runnin' Rebels (26-7/12-4 MWC) gathered on campus Sunday to learn their destination for what will be their second consecutive trip the NCAA tournament and first back-to-back berths since winning the national championship in 1990 and returning to the Final Four one season later. It marks the third multiple-bid streak in the history of a program that now boasts 16 all-time appearances. The Runnin' Rebels went three consecutive times in 1975-77 and then a school-record nine straight years in 1983-91.
Riding a four-game winning streak that included downing No. 24 BYU 76-61 in Saturday's MWC title game, UNLV earned a No. 8 seed in the Midwest Regional. Kent State (28-6/13-3 MAC) is the No. 9 seed while making its fifth-ever NCAA trip - all coming in the last 10 years.
"I'm very happy for our players and fans and everyone who helped us get to this point," UNLV head coach Lon Kruger said. "This is what you want for your players. These are memories that will last a lifetime. We don't know much right now about Kent State. We do know they are very well coached and had a great year and will present a big challenge for us."
Seeded eighth for the first time ever, the Rebels are just one spot lower than last year's squad that won its way into the Sweet 16. UNLV will be playing in the Cornhusker State for only the second time ever as it traveled to Lincoln to play Nebraska in the first round of the 1999 NIT.
"It's nice not having to go all the way across the country and hopefully a lot of our fans will be able to make the trip to Omaha," Kruger said. "With both us and BYU getting an eight seed, I think that shows some respect for our league. Now it's up to us to go out and play well in the tournament."
The Runnin' Rebels and the Golden Flashes of the Mid-American Conference have never met on the basketball court but UNLV is 7-1 all-time vs. teams in the league, with the most recent game being an 84-66 win over Eastern Michigan in Las Vegas on Nov. 21, 1997. UNLV has played a MAC team just once in the NCAA tournament, beating Ball State 69-67 in the Sweet 16 on March 23, 1990, en route to winning the national title.
"I saw Kent State beat Saint Mary's this season and we know they're a good team," said senior guard Curtis Terry. "Last night we sealed the deal about getting in (by winning the automatic bid) so today was about finding out who we play, when and where. Now it's time to get back to business. A lot of the guys on this team went through this last year so we'll be prepared."
The winner of the UNLV-Kent State game will advance to play the winner of No. 1-seeded Kansas vs. 16th-seeded Portland State on Saturday, March 22. The winner of that game advances to the Midwest Regional in Detroit on March 28 and 30.
UNLV is 0-3 all-time vs. Big 12 Conference tournament champion Kansas, with the most recent meeting coming as part of the Tip-Off Classic in Springfield, Mass., on Nov. 27, 1998. The Jayhawks also earned a neutral-site win over UNLV in Pontiac, Mich., on Nov. 22, 1989, and at Lawrence on Nov. 21, 1997. The Runnin' Rebels are 7-1 all-time vs. Portland State, which is making its first-ever appearance in the Big Dance after winning the Big Sky Conference regular-season and tournament titles. The most-recent meeting was a 69-54 UNLV victory in Las Vegas that opened the 2002-03 season.
The Runnin' Rebels boast an all-time record of 32-14 (.696) in the Big Dance, which ranks fifth all-time for the highest NCAA Tournament winning percentage. The program has made four Final Four appearances (1976-77, 1986-87, 1989-90 and 1990-91) and comes in with an impressive 12-2 all-time record in first-round matchups.
On Thursday, Kruger will face the Flashes for the first time in his 22-year career as a college head coach. Kruger, having compiled a 90-41 record in his four years at UNLV, will be making his 11th career trip to the NCAA and holds a 13-10 mark. In his career Kruger is 7-3 in first-round games, including winning his last four.
The 2008 MWC Coach of the Year is now only the second head man in college basketball history to lead at least four different schools to multiple NCAA appearances (UNLV 2, Illinois 3, Florida 2 and Kansas State 4). He joins Jim Harrick, who did it with Pepperdine (4), UCLA (8), Rhode Island (2) and Georgia (2). Last year Kruger became the fourth head coach to take three different teams to the Sweet 16 (joining Rick Pitino, Bill Self and Tubby Smith).