UNLV-UTEP Preview

A rodeo is preventing UNLV from using its home court for one
more game, but the venue hasn’t mattered much to Anthony
Bennett.

The star freshman looks to continue his dazzling play and help
the 21st-ranked Runnin’ Rebels to a seventh straight win Monday
night against UTEP.

The National Finals Rodeo is occupying the Thomas and Mack
Center, but UNLV (8-1) has won all three of this four-game stretch
away from its designated home.

Bennett has been very impressive lately, particularly over the
last two games. The forward had season highs of 27 points and 14
rebounds in Thursday’s 91-44 rout of Division III La Verne, played
at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

That performance topped his previous season highs set four days
prior, when he had 25 points with 13 rebounds in a 76-75 win at
California.

“He’s able to use his versatility,” coach Dave Rice said. “Our
guys have done a terrific job of post feeding him.”

That’s been the case all season, with Bennett ranking among the
nation’s top scorers (20.3 per game) while adding 8.9 rebounds and
shooting 57.0 percent from the floor.

He’s averaging 21.2 points during UNLV’s six-game winning
streak, which includes an 18.3 average margin of victory.

While Bennett is emerging as the Runnin’ Rebels’ star, the
team’s strength continues to be in its ball movement. UNLV is sixth
in the country with 18.1 assists per game, getting at least one
from nine of the 10 players used against the Leopards.

“When we’re at our best, the ball moves,” Rice said. “It makes
us extremely hard to guard.”

The Runnin’ Rebels are expected to have another strong presence
available in the front court, as Khem Birch is scheduled to make
his debut after transferring from Pittsburgh.

The forward averaged 4.4 points and 5.0 rebounds in 10 games as
a freshman with the Panthers after arriving as one of their top
recruits.

UTEP coach Tim Floyd is well aware of the threat UNLV poses up
front.

“The challenge with them is that their bigs are big-time
rebounders and big-time runners,” Floyd said. “They’re going to
force our big guys to run the floor. You can’t be lolly gagging
getting back to the other end.

The Miners (3-4), who are averaging 56.7 points and haven’t
scored 70 all season, are hoping to have guard Konner Tucker
available.

Tucker is trying to return from a broken hand suffered during
preseason play last month. He scored 12.0 points per game with San
Houston State last season.

“I have no idea what to expect from Konner. No clue,” Floyd
said. “I’m not very good at prognosticating. Based on practice, the
hand has been a little tender. He has been guarded in terms of
sticking that arm into the mix and getting it bent or tweaked.

“I don’t know how aggressive he can be, and I don’t know how
much confidence he has in his hand.”

UTEP should be well-rested since it hasn’t played since a 64-60
victory over Idaho on Dec. 8.

Julian Washburn leads the Miners with 12.0 points per game after
totaling 36 in the last two contests – both wins.

UNLV leads the all-time series 9-3, winning 80-67 in the most
recent visit to El Paso on Nov. 24, 2008.