Sunday, Dec. 6, 2009 | 2:29 a.m.
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Ryan Greene is joined for a special edition of The Rebel Room by Tom Keegan, who is the sports editor of the Journal-World in Lawrence, Kan. Why, you may ask? Well, Tom in his AP poll last weekend voted UNLV at No. 11, which was the highest nod the Rebels got following their victory over Louisville to improve to 5-0. Keegan explains why he voted UNLV so high, plus offers some insight into another program he knows well in Kansas State, who visits the Orleans Arena for a showdown with Lon Kruger's club next Saturday.
Why? Well, UNLV head coach Lon Kruger starred at K-State before taking a job there under Jack Hartman as an assistant coach. Later, he'd become the head coach at his alma mater.
Rebels assistant Steve Henson was Kruger's prized pupil in Manhattan, Kan., as his starting point guard. Another UNLV aide, Greg Grensing, served as a KSU assistant from 1986-94.
But now, as UNLV stands at 7-0 with a national ranking in its back pocket, the game is huge for more than sentimental reasons.
"It'll be the best team we've played, I think without question," Kruger said following Saturday's 66-63 narrow victory at Santa Clara. "It's the biggest team we've played, and the two guards are their leaders."
The two guards Kruger referred to are veterans Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente, who are the Wildcats' top two scorers, respectively. They scored 21 points apiece on Saturday night as K-State improved to 7-1 with an 86-69 victory at home over Washington State.
The strong backcourt play is only part of the reason why Kruger calls K-State his team's biggest challenge to date, despite having already faced Louisville and Arizona in the non-conference portion of the schedule.
Third-year coach Frank Martin will bring a team to town that is packed with size, headlined by athletic, 6-foot-5 swingman Dominique Sutton and junior forward Curtis Kelly — a UConn transfer who UNLV recruited before he landed in Manhattan.
While the Rebels get a break of sorts before K-State comes to town, the Wildcats will host Xavier at Bramlage Coliseum on Tuesday night.
Inside the numbers
• The Broncos came into Saturday's action averaging more than 20 3-point attempts per game, and only attempted 14 against UNLV. Why, you ask? Well, leading scorer Kevin Foster was out with a broken right foot. He was averaging 11.8 attempts from deep per game, and now could be out for the season, as surgery will be required to repair his fracture.
• UNLV was outrebounded, 42-28, marking the third time that's happened in the last four games.
• UNLV finished with 13 assists to nine turnovers, while Santa Clara had seven assists to go with an unsightly 21 turnovers.
• Ten different Rebels scored, led by Oscar Bellfield, who had 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting. He was 3-of-5 from 3-point range, which was a big positive for a team which is hitting 26.2 percent of its attempts from outside through seven games.
Lopez makes the trip
Despite his redshirt status this season, freshman forward Carlos Lopez made the trip with the team and was seated in full uniform at the end of the Rebels bench.
Kruger doesn't have any grand ideas of burning the redshirt. Instead, the UNLV staff is simply adding a little seasoning.
"We'll take Carlos anytime he's able to go," Kruger said. "Technically, he could even play in the last game of the year, not that he will. It's a little bit of experience for him to gain, just being on the road, with the team, in the environment. It may not make a big difference, but maybe a little bit."
A familiar face
Former UNLV swingman René Rougeau, who last season averaged 10.9 points and 6.7 rebounds in his senior campaign, arrived at halftime and was in the arena to witness the Rebels' comeback.
He had just flown in, stopping by the game on his way to Concord, Calif. It's there, where he will begin his professional basketball career this week as a member of the ABA's Clayton Showtime.
The Final Word
Kruger on his team's first half showing on Saturday night: "They outfought us. That's the thing we can't ever let happen. It's another lesson to be learned: If we don't outfight the opponent, we're probably not going to win. It was almost a bigger lesson than it turned out to be."