December 17, 2012

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.