Rebels try to rock, chalk the Jayhawks

OMAHA -- UNLV knocked off a No. 2 seed in Wisconsin last year in the Midwest Regional in its run to the Sweet 16. But the Runnin' Rebels today have an even tougher obstacle to overcome, No. 1 seed Kansas (32-3), if they hope to make a return trip to the Sweet 16.

The Jayhawks are 13-point favorites to end UNLV's season at the Qwest Center here, where more than half the crowd will be wearing Kansas blue. The Rebels can only hope that the fans of the Jayhawks' bitter in-state rival and Lon Kruger's alma mater, Kansas State, stick around after their opening game with Wisconsin and cheer on the Rebels.

"We would hope that would be the case," Kruger said. "I'm not sure how it will play out. But it may depend if K-State wins that first one or not. They'd probably like to get KU out of the bracket more than they'd like to cheer for us perhaps. … But Kansas is going to have a good crowd, no question about it. We understand it's a little bit of a road-like atmosphere."
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Such was the case last year, however, when Badger fans made the 90-mile drive from Madison to the United Center. However, the Rebels silenced that crowd with a 74-68 victory.

Can UNLV do it again?

"Our experience last year is definitely something we can look back on and draw motivation from," senior guard Curtis Terry, who starred in crunch time in the Wisconsin win, said. "But everybody knows we're a new team. We lost a lot of people. And we're doing things our own way now and just having fun going out there and playing basketball and being successful.

"This is an opportunity four our basketball program and for us this season to go out there and play a team like Kansas, which is one of the top programs in the country year-in and year-out and is having a great year this year."

The key for UNLV could be how well its undersized front line of 6-foot-7 forward Joe Darger and 6-6 Rene Rougeau handles the strong and athletic Jayhawk front line led by 6-9 Darrell Arthur, 6-8 Darnell Jackson and 6-11, 250-pound Sasha Kaun.

"It's definitely going to be a battle all night," Rougeau said. "We definitely knew coming into the tournament that if we want to go farther, we're going to have to play someone big, whether it's Georgetown or whoever it is.

"We get Kansas now, and this is the opportunity we've been waiting for."

That may not be such a good thing, however.

"Sometimes maybe you have to be careful what you wish for, because Kansas is so good and so athletic," Kruger said. "The challenge is great. Any time you have an 8 vs. 1 matchup, you expect that."


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