Tonight: UNLV vs Cal

<p>Cal returns home to Haas Pavilion for their 5th non-conference game of the season and the first of three straight home games in a seven day period. The Bears host UNLV - their second straight Mountain West Conference opponent &#8211; to kick things off at 8PM PST this Wednesday, December 1st. Here&#8217;s a look at both teams</p>

Game #5: UNLV (1-1) vs. California Golden Bears (3-1)
Location: Haas Pavilion
Date: Dec 1st, 2004 (scheduled for 8:00 PM PST start time)

A Look at the UNLV Runnin' Rebels

UNLV Coaching Staff

Head Coach: Lon Kruger (1st year at UNLV)
Assistants: Steve Henson, Lew Hill, Marvin Menzies

Projected Starting Five (returning starters in bold; 2004-05 statistics):

PG – Jerel Blassingame
5’10 170 Sr; (5.0 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 6.5 apg) – Ultra quick PG; made 29 starts in 03-04
SG – Michael Umeh 6’2 185 So; (3.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 1.0 apg) – Houston native who started just one game last year
SF – Odartey Blankson 6’7 220 Sr; (18.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 28% 3-Ptr) – 2003-04 MWC 1st Team Selection
PF – Louis Amundson 6’9 230 Jr; (11.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg) – Career 51.6% in FG’s; medical redshirt in 2002-03
C – Joel Anthony 6’9 240 Jr; (2.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg) – Pensacola JC/Pensacola FL via Dawson Prep/Montreal Canada

Key Reserves:

SF – Romel Beck 6’7 185 Sr; (12.0 ppg, 1.0 apg) – Started 30 games last year averaging 30 mpg
SF – Andy Hannan 6’6 210 Sr; (2.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg) – Limited role in 17 games during 1st year at UNLV
SG – John Winston 6’3 205 So; (3.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 3.0 apg) – Started 3 games and played in all 31 as a true freshman
SF – Curtis Terry 6’5 200 Fr; (3.0 ppg, 0.0 rpg, 1.5 apg) – Curtis HS/University Place WA
PG – Ricky Morgan 6’0 190 Jr; (3.0 ppg, 1.5 rpg) – Pontiac Northern HS/Pontiac MI via Schoolcraft CC/Livonia MI
PF – Dustin Villepigue 6’9 235 Jr; (9.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg) – Simi Valley HS/Simi Valley CA via Dixie State CC/Dixie UT


There’s always something new popping up in Las Vegas. At UNLV the new name is Lon Kruger, the 10th head coach in Rebels history and the replacement for interim head coach Jay Spoonhour who followed up his father Charlie’s short three-year run in Sin City. As a tandem, the Spoonhour’s did a fantastic job cleaning up the program and restoring UNLV basketball’s credibility. Kruger, the former NBA coach with stops in Atlanta (head Coach) and New York (assistant) decided to return to the college game where he had success with programs such as UT-Pan American, Florida, Illinois, and his alma mater, Kansas State. His coaching highlight came in 1994 when he led the Florida Gators to the Final Four. He also stabilized an inconsistent Illinois program in just two seasons taking the Fighting Illini to the top of the Big 10. His coaching career in the NBA was anything but memorable though – fired twice within 3 years in two different cities.

The lure to coaching basketball at UNLV has always been a strong one for basketball coaches. Due to the outstanding albeit sizzling weather much of the year and the fact that a number of top summer prep tournaments occur right in the city, it’s a great location for college coaches. While you can catch any game around the country on big screens at Vegas sports clubs, the best games to attend in person are found over at the Thomas & Mack Center where Runnin’ Rebel basketball has played for years. That’s part of the lure to UNLV. It’d be tough to name another major city that offers more in the way of entertainment but possesses zero professional teams of any fame. For Coach Kruger, he’s been visiting the city for years and is excited to be back in the college game.

“ We're thrilled to be here,” said Coach Kruger after being announced as the new UNLV coach this past March. “From the day Mike called, Barb and I discussed many things and three things kept coming to the front. (First,) people we wanted to work with. After visiting with Dr. Harter and Mike and Jerry Koloskie and others in the community, we knew this was a great fit. People are excited, they're hungry. They're very supportive of the basketball program. The second thing we talked about is that we wanted to go somewhere where we wanted to live. We've always enjoyed coming to Vegas. People that live here love living here. It's a great place to raise children, a great place for families. We're delighted to have a chance to become residents of Las Vegas.”

While Kruger walks in obviously rejuvenated to be back in the college game and living in a city that he’s enjoyed, he inherits a team with 3 starters back from an 18 win team that appeared in the 2003-04 NIT as well. Despite a new coach, expectations for this season are already high with the Rebels receiving 15 of 24 first place votes in the annual Mountain West Conference (MWC) media poll thus making them the team to beat. Not only is that a credit to the job some feel Lon Kruger can do but a tribute to the players and former Coach Spoonhour’s hard work in what was obviously a difficult job when he took over.

Perhaps no move turned out better for Coach Spoonhour then accepting the transfer of Chicago native Odartey Blankson, a 6’7 220 lbs combo forward whose as good as it gets out west. While most college basketball fans don’t know much about him, Blankson is one of the top athletes in the country and a player that will certainly get a look at the next level. After being a two year starter at Marquette, Blankson sat out the 2002-03 season after transferring to UNLV. Commonly referred to by scouts as a Shawn Marion (who also played at UNLV) type wing, Odartey flirted with the 2004 NBA Draft but returned to UNLV for his senior season hoping to improve his stock. Like Marion, Odartey can score and rebound quite well from the small forward position. He was a 1st Team All-MWC selection and despite his 6’7 frame, was one of the few players in the country who averaged a double-double (17.6 ppg & 10.2 rpg). He finished 3rd nationally in double-double’s (19 in total) behind National Player of the Year Emeka Okafor and Louisiana Tech’s Paul Millsap. Odartey had a strong argument for 2004 MWC Player of the Year. Despite playing in just his first season for UNLV, Blankson led the Rebels in scoring, rebounding, free throw percentage, minutes played, and tied for first in steals. He pushed the Rebels to be a better team. Overall, he led the MWC in rebounding. Blankson has won Conference Player of the Week awards in both Conference-USA and the MWC and he’s the favorite for Conference Player of the Year honors this year.

While Blankson has earned top billing for UNLV the Rebels also have two other solid transfers that came to Las Vegas a year ago. Backcourt tandem Jerel Blassingame and Romel Beck, two L.A City College (LACC) stars who played for former UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian’s son at LACC started 29 and 30 games respectively last season. However, Beck is coming in off the bench for the Rebels so far and that’s mainly because he doesn’t share the ball that well – something Coach Kruger preaches. Romel averaged over 30 minutes per game for the Rebels last season but had just 29 assists. He’s a shoot first athlete. This season, Beck’s played 43 total minutes without an assist. Romel is also reportedly nursing a sore Achilles heel but despite the soreness he remains a scoring threat. His former LACC teammate Jerel Blassingame is the exact opposite when it comes to passing the basketball and compares favorably to a Las Vegas dealer. He dished out 200 assists a year ago and topped the MWC in dimes. In fact, Blassingame was 8th nationally in assists. The Brooklyn-born point guard can shoot the three and has the ability to get near the rim and score. He knocked down 40% of his shots from behind the arc a year ago. However, in the Rebels first two games this season Jerel has yet to make one from deep. It’s probably just a matter of time before he hits a few. Now starting alongside Blassingame is sophomore Michael Umeh, a Houston native who is somewhat of a surprising starter over Beck. This is likely a case of a new coach just making a point with a certain player as Beck is still averaging more minutes per game then Umeh is on the season. Umeh has reportedly looked a bit lost in game action but is a quality catch and shoot prospect. If Bronx native Wilbur Williams was eligible for UNLV, he’d likely be the starter. Williams, who was signed by Kruger, has to sit out the first semester due to academics after arriving from LACC. Getting some of the minutes that Williams would have collected is senior Andy Hannan. He’s a decent shooter but has looked lost defensively.

Just as Cal rotates Marquise Kately and Dominic McGuire between spots on the floor, UNLV switches Blankson and Beck around. While Cal usually rotates bigger frontcourt players in behind Kately and McGuire the Rebels send in guards like Hercules, CA native John Winston, JC-transfer Ricky Morgan, and freshman Curtis Terry. Winston is a good defensive backcourt option and a former teammate of Marquise Kately on the Oakland Soldiers AAU team. Unfortunately for Winston he’s been operating on a bad ankle. Curtis Terry is a much more intriguing prospect. The younger brother of former Arizona Pac-10 Player of the Year and 1st Team All-American Jason Terry, Chris is a thicker version of his older brother without the quickness. He can shoot the ball as well. While Terry and Winston came to UNLV straight out of high school, Ricky Morgan arrived at UNLV via three pit stops. After attending Iowa State his freshman season and transferring to Paris JC in Texas for his sophomore season, Morgan left Paris JC midway through the school year to attend Schoolcraft Community College in his native Michigan. He signed with UNLV right after Coach Kruger took over and is a strong bodied tough point man who knows how to run a team. He’s not a scorer. Cal fans might be reminded of Prentice McGruder when they see Morgan. Both Blassingame and Morgan will match-up with Midgley and Smith.

In the lane, UNLV rotates three juniors – two of which are JC-transfers. The frontcourt is led by starter Louis Amundson, a former Colorado prep who gets a little better and a little stronger each season. He redshirted in 2002-03 but came back last year and averaged a little over 14 minutes per game. He started eight games when former Rebels frontcourt star J.K. Edwards sat out. As some Cal fans might remember, Amundson had a pretty nice game against Cal in one of those starts collecting 8 rebounds and 8 points. He plays the game hard and he’ll make both David Paris and Rod Benson work on the offensive end. Also starting in the frontcourt is Montreal native Joel Anthony, a JC-transfer from Pensacola, FL. Anthony is a defensive minded type player who likes to go for the big block – something he’s pretty good at. He’s averaging 2.5 blocks per game so far and might lead the MWC in that category by seasons end. Backing up the two starters is fellow junior Dustin Villepigue, a transfer from Dixie State College in Utah. Villepigue, who prepped at Simi Valley HS in Simi Valley, CA signed with Gonzaga out of high school and spent two years with the Zags. He redshirted in 2001-02 and played in just four games the following season leaving due to playing time concerns. Though Dustin is not as agile, Villepigue is a Sean Marks look-alike who hustles around the court.

Coach Kruger will mix his defenses but he primarily likes to play man-to-man. UNLV pressed a lot last year and they have the talent to do that again with all the backcourt depth but it remains to be seen if they’ll do that on the road against Cal. Blassingame should be the quickest player on the court. Under Kruger, there is an emphasis on taking good shots so look for the Rebels to try and work the clock. Since they are still learning the system, they will not look fluid at times.

Last year, UNLV got off to a great start against a cold-shooting Cal team and held them off in the second half, winning 59-57 in Las Vegas. While the Rebels have a number of the same players on this team, they lost a lot of their outside shooting and don’t really play with the same swagger – something that only Coach Spoonhour really brought. The Rebels are shooting just 25% from three-point land in two games and are shooting 40% from the field.

UNLV did not fare that well on the road last year – going 2-8 over their last 10 road games. This is the first of an extremely tough four-game road trip that will span a total of twelve days for the Rebels, taking them to Berkeley, Reno, Malibu, and the state of Alabama to face to the Auburn Tigers. UNLV currently stands at 1-1 after a 10 point loss to St. Mary’s on opening night before rebounding with a 25-point drubbing of the Pac-10’s own Oregon State Beavers.

A Look at the California Golden Bears

Cal Coaching Staff

Head Coach: Ben Braun (9th Year)
Assistants: Louis Reynaud, Joe Pasternack, George Nessman

Projected Starting Five (returning starters in bold; 2004-05 statistics):

PG – Richard Midgley 6'2 210 Jr; (15.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 63% 3-Ptr) - 2-year starter; Top 3-point shooter
SG – Marquise Kately 6’5 220 So; (14.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 49% FG) – Leading rebounder; Top Wing
SF – Dominic McGuire 6’9 215 So; (4.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.3 apg) – 3rd in rebounding and minutes played in 2004-05
PF – Rod Benson 6’10 215 Jr; (7.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg) – Shooting 55% as a 1st year starter
C – DeVon Hardin 6’10 245 Fr; (5.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg) – Newark HS, Newark CA

Key Reserves:

PG – Martin Smith 5’11 170 Jr; (3.8 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 3.5 apg) – Averaging 17 minutes per game as reserve PG
PF – David Paris 6’9 245 Jr; (7.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.5 apg, 52% FG) – Tied for 3rd in points and 2nd in FG%
SF – Eric Vierneisel 6’7 200 Fr; (3.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.5 apg, 36% 3-Ptr) – Jacobs HS, Algonquin IL
PF – Kevin Langford 6’9 215 Fr; (1.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg) – North Crowley HS, Fort Worth TX

An early season road win for a young program like Cal is a big a confidence booster. That’s exactly the lift the Bears got when they traveled to Provo this past week and knocked off the BYU Cougars. The Cougars were 62-1 at the Marriot Center since 2000 and though this might be the weakest BYU team since 2000, it’s still a quality road win in a tough place to play. Like any good team has to do to win games, the Bears made the right adjustments and they paid off with victories. The first switch occurred after the loss to St. Mary’s when the Bears moved Richard Midgley from his off-guard position back to the point – a position he played his freshman year. Cal is 2-0 since the move and has regained a lot of confidence on the offensive end with a tempo pushing controlled break. The ball movement alone has improved two-fold.

“ I’m really enjoying playing point guard right now especially with wings like Marquise and Dominic who just run out there,” said Midgley. “All I basically have to do is pass ahead and get the ball to them. They can either create shots for the big guys or for themselves.”

By shooting 63% from three point country early on, Midgley has also made sure opponents fear his long range jumper. The other adjustment the Bears made was due to an injury, as backcourt starter Ayinde Ubaka suffered a broken foot that will sideline him till the start of Pac-10 play. The loss of Ubaka gave freshman center DeVon Hardin a chance to step into the starting line-up and in his first career start, the newcomer from Newark High in the Bay Area showed up in a big way. Posting the first double-double of his career (12 points and 12 rebounds), Hardin also had three emphatic blocked shots and an assist. His follow-up dunk in the 2nd half even had BYU fans clapping.

“ I think once I got my first dunk in I felt pretty good out there,” said Hardin.

With the Bears returning home brimming with confidence, they begin a three-game home stand against their 2nd MWC foe in a row. Perhaps the key game on the remaining non-conference schedule, Cal can jump out to a solid start with a win over UNLV. The main difference that fans will see between UNLV and Cal is the fact that UNLV is more guard oriented and Cal is more of a post team. What would Coach Braun prefer to have?

“ Well, I like to bring in guys that are productive,” said Coach Braun. “So if the post guys are productive that’s great for us. It’s good to have depth if you are productive at that position. If we can get our post guys active, that’ll be a real plus for us. Our post guys were really active last game and that paid off. That’s one of the reasons we beat BYU.”

Despite the fact that the Rebels have more guard play, they aren’t shooting that well so far (again, 25% from three). Perhaps what UNLV really misses the most is the sharp shooting skills of Demitrius Hunter who worked the Bears over for 15 points drilling 5 long three pointers last year. Without Umeh, Beck, or Blassingame stepping up and hitting those shots this year...UNLV will see a lot of defenses that double down whenever Blankson gets the ball. UNLV is also struggling to get shots off clean or smoothly – something that inevitably happens when coaches are changed.

While both teams have quality wings, UNLV’s senior duo of Blankson and Beck have more experience then Cal’s sophomore tandem of Kately and McGuire. Both Beck & Blankson have range, shoot 80%+ from the line, and can get to the rim with their athleticism. The Rebels duo also has a lot of experience while Kately and McGuire are still improving on their games. On the flip side, Kately and McGuire are an active tandem and they’ll compete with anybody. McGuire played quite well last year against Blankson in the 2nd half.

Don’t be surprised to see Cal as the aggressor on Wednesday night – they will push the ball up the court in an effort to get easy baskets. The focus for Cal is on getting rebounds and playing sound defense, or “digging in” as Coach Braun stated. Cal’s opponents are shooting just 37% from the floor while the Bears are knocking down 45% of their field goals. Overall, that’s been the key statistic with the 2004-05 Bears to date. Every game they’ve had the higher shooting percentage, they’ve won. Richard Midgley is the best shooter on the court and if he gets 20, the Bears will tough to beat at home. Fans are starting to rally around this team and the explosive dunks of freshman DeVon Hardin.


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Game #5: UNLV (1-1) vs. California Golden Bears (3-1)
Location: Haas Pavilion
Date: Dec 1st, 2004 (scheduled for 8:00 PM PST start time)

A Look at the UNLV Runnin' Rebels

UNLV Coaching Staff

Head Coach: Lon Kruger (1st year at UNLV)
Assistants: Steve Henson, Lew Hill, Marvin Menzies

Projected Starting Five (returning starters in bold; 2004-05 statistics):

PG – Jerel Blassingame
5’10 170 Sr; (5.0 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 6.5 apg) – Ultra quick PG; made 29 starts in 03-04
SG – Michael Umeh 6’2 185 So; (3.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 1.0 apg) – Houston native who started just one game last year
SF – Odartey Blankson 6’7 220 Sr; (18.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 28% 3-Ptr) – 2003-04 MWC 1st Team Selection
PF – Louis Amundson 6’9 230 Jr; (11.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg) – Career 51.6% in FG’s; medical redshirt in 2002-03
C – Joel Anthony 6’9 240 Jr; (2.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg) – Pensacola JC/Pensacola FL via Dawson Prep/Montreal Canada

Key Reserves:

SF – Romel Beck 6’7 185 Sr; (12.0 ppg, 1.0 apg) – Started 30 games last year averaging 30 mpg
SF – Andy Hannan 6’6 210 Sr; (2.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg) – Limited role in 17 games during 1st year at UNLV
SG – John Winston 6’3 205 So; (3.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 3.0 apg) – Started 3 games and played in all 31 as a true freshman
SF – Curtis Terry 6’5 200 Fr; (3.0 ppg, 0.0 rpg, 1.5 apg) – Curtis HS/University Place WA
PG – Ricky Morgan 6’0 190 Jr; (3.0 ppg, 1.5 rpg) – Pontiac Northern HS/Pontiac MI via Schoolcraft CC/Livonia MI
PF – Dustin Villepigue 6’9 235 Jr; (9.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg) – Simi Valley HS/Simi Valley CA via Dixie State CC/Dixie UT


There’s always something new popping up in Las Vegas. At UNLV the new name is Lon Kruger, the 10th head coach in Rebels history and the replacement for interim head coach Jay Spoonhour who followed up his father Charlie’s short three-year run in Sin City. As a tandem, the Spoonhour’s did a fantastic job cleaning up the program and restoring UNLV basketball’s credibility. Kruger, the former NBA coach with stops in Atlanta (head Coach) and New York (assistant) decided to return to the college game where he had success with programs such as UT-Pan American, Florida, Illinois, and his alma mater, Kansas State. His coaching highlight came in 1994 when he led the Florida Gators to the Final Four. He also stabilized an inconsistent Illinois program in just two seasons taking the Fighting Illini to the top of the Big 10. His coaching career in the NBA was anything but memorable though – fired twice within 3 years in two different cities.

The lure to coaching basketball at UNLV has always been a strong one for basketball coaches. Due to the outstanding albeit sizzling weather much of the year and the fact that a number of top summer prep tournaments occur right in the city, it’s a great location for college coaches. While you can catch any game around the country on big screens at Vegas sports clubs, the best games to attend in person are found over at the Thomas & Mack Center where Runnin’ Rebel basketball has played for years. That’s part of the lure to UNLV. It’d be tough to name another major city that offers more in the way of entertainment but possesses zero professional teams of any fame. For Coach Kruger, he’s been visiting the city for years and is excited to be back in the college game.

“ We're thrilled to be here,” said Coach Kruger after being announced as the new UNLV coach this past March. “From the day Mike called, Barb and I discussed many things and three things kept coming to the front. (First,) people we wanted to work with. After visiting with Dr. Harter and Mike and Jerry Koloskie and others in the community, we knew this was a great fit. People are excited, they're hungry. They're very supportive of the basketball program. The second thing we talked about is that we wanted to go somewhere where we wanted to live. We've always enjoyed coming to Vegas. People that live here love living here. It's a great place to raise children, a great place for families. We're delighted to have a chance to become residents of Las Vegas.”

While Kruger walks in obviously rejuvenated to be back in the college game and living in a city that he’s enjoyed, he inherits a team with 3 starters back from an 18 win team that appeared in the 2003-04 NIT as well. Despite a new coach, expectations for this season are already high with the Rebels receiving 15 of 24 first place votes in the annual Mountain West Conference (MWC) media poll thus making them the team to beat. Not only is that a credit to the job some feel Lon Kruger can do but a tribute to the players and former Coach Spoonhour’s hard work in what was obviously a difficult job when he took over.

Perhaps no move turned out better for Coach Spoonhour then accepting the transfer of Chicago native Odartey Blankson, a 6’7 220 lbs combo forward whose as good as it gets out west. While most college basketball fans don’t know much about him, Blankson is one of the top athletes in the country and a player that will certainly get a look at the next level. After being a two year starter at Marquette, Blankson sat out the 2002-03 season after transferring to UNLV. Commonly referred to by scouts as a Shawn Marion (who also played at UNLV) type wing, Odartey flirted with the 2004 NBA Draft but returned to UNLV for his senior season hoping to improve his stock. Like Marion, Odartey can score and rebound quite well from the small forward position. He was a 1st Team All-MWC selection and despite his 6’7 frame, was one of the few players in the country who averaged a double-double (17.6 ppg & 10.2 rpg). He finished 3rd nationally in double-double’s (19 in total) behind National Player of the Year Emeka Okafor and Louisiana Tech’s Paul Millsap. Odartey had a strong argument for 2004 MWC Player of the Year. Despite playing in just his first season for UNLV, Blankson led the Rebels in scoring, rebounding, free throw percentage, minutes played, and tied for first in steals. He pushed the Rebels to be a better team. Overall, he led the MWC in rebounding. Blankson has won Conference Player of the Week awards in both Conference-USA and the MWC and he’s the favorite for Conference Player of the Year honors this year.

While Blankson has earned top billing for UNLV the Rebels also have two other solid transfers that came to Las Vegas a year ago. Backcourt tandem Jerel Blassingame and Romel Beck, two L.A City College (LACC) stars who played for former UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian’s son at LACC started 29 and 30 games respectively last season. However, Beck is coming in off the bench for the Rebels so far and that’s mainly because he doesn’t share the ball that well – something Coach Kruger preaches. Romel averaged over 30 minutes per game for the Rebels last season but had just 29 assists. He’s a shoot first athlete. This season, Beck’s played 43 total minutes without an assist. Romel is also reportedly nursing a sore Achilles heel but despite the soreness he remains a scoring threat. His former LACC teammate Jerel Blassingame is the exact opposite when it comes to passing the basketball and compares favorably to a Las Vegas dealer. He dished out 200 assists a year ago and topped the MWC in dimes. In fact, Blassingame was 8th nationally in assists. The Brooklyn-born point guard can shoot the three and has the ability to get near the rim and score. He knocked down 40% of his shots from behind the arc a year ago. However, in the Rebels first two games this season Jerel has yet to make one from deep. It’s probably just a matter of time before he hits a few. Now starting alongside Blassingame is sophomore Michael Umeh, a Houston native who is somewhat of a surprising starter over Beck. This is likely a case of a new coach just making a point with a certain player as Beck is still averaging more minutes per game then Umeh is on the season. Umeh has reportedly looked a bit lost in game action but is a quality catch and shoot prospect. If Bronx native Wilbur Williams was eligible for UNLV, he’d likely be the starter. Williams, who was signed by Kruger, has to sit out the first semester due to academics after arriving from LACC. Getting some of the minutes that Williams would have collected is senior Andy Hannan. He’s a decent shooter but has looked lost defensively.

Just as Cal rotates Marquise Kately and Dominic McGuire between spots on the floor, UNLV switches Blankson and Beck around. While Cal usually rotates bigger frontcourt players in behind Kately and McGuire the Rebels send in guards like Hercules, CA native John Winston, JC-transfer Ricky Morgan, and freshman Curtis Terry. Winston is a good defensive backcourt option and a former teammate of Marquise Kately on the Oakland Soldiers AAU team. Unfortunately for Winston he’s been operating on a bad ankle. Curtis Terry is a much more intriguing prospect. The younger brother of former Arizona Pac-10 Player of the Year and 1st Team All-American Jason Terry, Chris is a thicker version of his older brother without the quickness. He can shoot the ball as well. While Terry and Winston came to UNLV straight out of high school, Ricky Morgan arrived at UNLV via three pit stops. After attending Iowa State his freshman season and transferring to Paris JC in Texas for his sophomore season, Morgan left Paris JC midway through the school year to attend Schoolcraft Community College in his native Michigan. He signed with UNLV right after Coach Kruger took over and is a strong bodied tough point man who knows how to run a team. He’s not a scorer. Cal fans might be reminded of Prentice McGruder when they see Morgan. Both Blassingame and Morgan will match-up with Midgley and Smith.

In the lane, UNLV rotates three juniors – two of which are JC-transfers. The frontcourt is led by starter Louis Amundson, a former Colorado prep who gets a little better and a little stronger each season. He redshirted in 2002-03 but came back last year and averaged a little over 14 minutes per game. He started eight games when former Rebels frontcourt star J.K. Edwards sat out. As some Cal fans might remember, Amundson had a pretty nice game against Cal in one of those starts collecting 8 rebounds and 8 points. He plays the game hard and he’ll make both David Paris and Rod Benson work on the offensive end. Also starting in the frontcourt is Montreal native Joel Anthony, a JC-transfer from Pensacola, FL. Anthony is a defensive minded type player who likes to go for the big block – something he’s pretty good at. He’s averaging 2.5 blocks per game so far and might lead the MWC in that category by seasons end. Backing up the two starters is fellow junior Dustin Villepigue, a transfer from Dixie State College in Utah. Villepigue, who prepped at Simi Valley HS in Simi Valley, CA signed with Gonzaga out of high school and spent two years with the Zags. He redshirted in 2001-02 and played in just four games the following season leaving due to playing time concerns. Though Dustin is not as agile, Villepigue is a Sean Marks look-alike who hustles around the court.

Coach Kruger will mix his defenses but he primarily likes to play man-to-man. UNLV pressed a lot last year and they have the talent to do that again with all the backcourt depth but it remains to be seen if they’ll do that on the road against Cal. Blassingame should be the quickest player on the court. Under Kruger, there is an emphasis on taking good shots so look for the Rebels to try and work the clock. Since they are still learning the system, they will not look fluid at times.

Last year, UNLV got off to a great start against a cold-shooting Cal team and held them off in the second half, winning 59-57 in Las Vegas. While the Rebels have a number of the same players on this team, they lost a lot of their outside shooting and don’t really play with the same swagger – something that only Coach Spoonhour really brought. The Rebels are shooting just 25% from three-point land in two games and are shooting 40% from the field.

UNLV did not fare that well on the road last year – going 2-8 over their last 10 road games. This is the first of an extremely tough four-game road trip that will span a total of twelve days for the Rebels, taking them to Berkeley, Reno, Malibu, and the state of Alabama to face to the Auburn Tigers. UNLV currently stands at 1-1 after a 10 point loss to St. Mary’s on opening night before rebounding with a 25-point drubbing of the Pac-10’s own Oregon State Beavers.

A Look at the California Golden Bears

Cal Coaching Staff

Head Coach: Ben Braun (9th Year)
Assistants: Louis Reynaud, Joe Pasternack, George Nessman

Projected Starting Five (returning starters in bold; 2004-05 statistics):

PG – Richard Midgley 6'2 210 Jr; (15.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 63% 3-Ptr) - 2-year starter; Top 3-point shooter
SG – Marquise Kately 6’5 220 So; (14.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 49% FG) – Leading rebounder; Top Wing
SF – Dominic McGuire 6’9 215 So; (4.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.3 apg) – 3rd in rebounding and minutes played in 2004-05
PF – Rod Benson 6’10 215 Jr; (7.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg) – Shooting 55% as a 1st year starter
C – DeVon Hardin 6’10 245 Fr; (5.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg) – Newark HS, Newark CA

Key Reserves:

PG – Martin Smith 5’11 170 Jr; (3.8 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 3.5 apg) – Averaging 17 minutes per game as reserve PG
PF – David Paris 6’9 245 Jr; (7.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.5 apg, 52% FG) – Tied for 3rd in points and 2nd in FG%
SF – Eric Vierneisel 6’7 200 Fr; (3.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.5 apg, 36% 3-Ptr) – Jacobs HS, Algonquin IL
PF – Kevin Langford 6’9 215 Fr; (1.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg) – North Crowley HS, Fort Worth TX

An early season road win for a young program like Cal is a big a confidence booster. That’s exactly the lift the Bears got when they traveled to Provo this past week and knocked off the BYU Cougars. The Cougars were 62-1 at the Marriot Center since 2000 and though this might be the weakest BYU team since 2000, it’s still a quality road win in a tough place to play. Like any good team has to do to win games, the Bears made the right adjustments and they paid off with victories. The first switch occurred after the loss to St. Mary’s when the Bears moved Richard Midgley from his off-guard position back to the point – a position he played his freshman year. Cal is 2-0 since the move and has regained a lot of confidence on the offensive end with a tempo pushing controlled break. The ball movement alone has improved two-fold.

“ I’m really enjoying playing point guard right now especially with wings like Marquise and Dominic who just run out there,” said Midgley. “All I basically have to do is pass ahead and get the ball to them. They can either create shots for the big guys or for themselves.”

By shooting 63% from three point country early on, Midgley has also made sure opponents fear his long range jumper. The other adjustment the Bears made was due to an injury, as backcourt starter Ayinde Ubaka suffered a broken foot that will sideline him till the start of Pac-10 play. The loss of Ubaka gave freshman center DeVon Hardin a chance to step into the starting line-up and in his first career start, the newcomer from Newark High in the Bay Area showed up in a big way. Posting the first double-double of his career (12 points and 12 rebounds), Hardin also had three emphatic blocked shots and an assist. His follow-up dunk in the 2nd half even had BYU fans clapping.

“ I think once I got my first dunk in I felt pretty good out there,” said Hardin.

With the Bears returning home brimming with confidence, they begin a three-game home stand against their 2nd MWC foe in a row. Perhaps the key game on the remaining non-conference schedule, Cal can jump out to a solid start with a win over UNLV. The main difference that fans will see between UNLV and Cal is the fact that UNLV is more guard oriented and Cal is more of a post team. What would Coach Braun prefer to have?

“ Well, I like to bring in guys that are productive,” said Coach Braun. “So if the post guys are productive that’s great for us. It’s good to have depth if you are productive at that position. If we can get our post guys active, that’ll be a real plus for us. Our post guys were really active last game and that paid off. That’s one of the reasons we beat BYU.”

Despite the fact that the Rebels have more guard play, they aren’t shooting that well so far (again, 25% from three). Perhaps what UNLV really misses the most is the sharp shooting skills of Demitrius Hunter who worked the Bears over for 15 points drilling 5 long three pointers last year. Without Umeh, Beck, or Blassingame stepping up and hitting those shots this year...UNLV will see a lot of defenses that double down whenever Blankson gets the ball. UNLV is also struggling to get shots off clean or smoothly – something that inevitably happens when coaches are changed.

While both teams have quality wings, UNLV’s senior duo of Blankson and Beck have more experience then Cal’s sophomore tandem of Kately and McGuire. Both Beck & Blankson have range, shoot 80%+ from the line, and can get to the rim with their athleticism. The Rebels duo also has a lot of experience while Kately and McGuire are still improving on their games. On the flip side, Kately and McGuire are an active tandem and they’ll compete with anybody. McGuire played quite well last year against Blankson in the 2nd half.

Don’t be surprised to see Cal as the aggressor on Wednesday night – they will push the ball up the court in an effort to get easy baskets. The focus for Cal is on getting rebounds and playing sound defense, or “digging in” as Coach Braun stated. Cal’s opponents are shooting just 37% from the floor while the Bears are knocking down 45% of their field goals. Overall, that’s been the key statistic with the 2004-05 Bears to date. Every game they’ve had the higher shooting percentage, they’ve won. Richard Midgley is the best shooter on the court and if he gets 20, the Bears will tough to beat at home. Fans are starting to rally around this team and the explosive dunks of freshman DeVon Hardin.


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