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.