Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, May 24, 2011 | 11:30 a.m.
Not long after UNLV escaped Arizona's McKale Center with a 74-72 double-overtime win on Dec. 2, 2009, first-year Wildcats coach Sean Miller requested that the non-conference series be put on hold for a bit while he got the program back on solid ground.
He arrived in Tucson from Xavier after Arizona had experienced a brief lull in the post-Lute Olson Era. A year later, he had the Wildcats in the Elite Eight this past March with a stellar incoming recruiting class on tap, to boot.
Now, the series is set to resume beginning in the 2013-14 season.
Miller and UNLV coach Dave Rice have verbally agreed to a four-year deal, with the contracts not yet signed. Arizona will host UNLV in 2013-14, with the Rebels welcoming the Cats to the Thomas & Mack Center the following season, then the same pattern in the last two years of the agreement. Rice announced the handshake agreement via Twitter over the weekend.
"It's something that was really, really important to start (back up)," Rice said. "It just makes sense. It's been a great rivalry over the years."
Between 1972 and 2009, the two programs met 17 times, with UNLV holding an 11-6 edge in the series. The height of the rivalry came in the late 1980s, when Olson and legendary UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian struck up heated battles annually on the floor and on the recruiting trail. It also didn't hurt that, at the time, both programs were national powers and annual Final Four contenders.
"I just remember how many great players were in those games," said Rice, who was on the UNLV team that defeated Arizona in the 1989-90 national championship season, 95-87 in Las Vegas. "It was two teams that played transition basketball, just really exciting games. Most significant is the fact that we're both basically in the same geographical region."
After that 1990 meeting, the regular season series between the two went dead until 2006, when the two entered a four-year agreement. Arizona took the first two meetings, then UNLV claimed the last two in 2008 and 2009.
The topic of continuing the series this upcoming season was discussed, but Arizona needed the first game to be in Tucson. A trip to the McKale Center would have made an already daunting non-conference road schedule that much tougher on the Rebels.
Just getting the deal put together, though, is important for UNLV, who figures to continue going head-to-head with Arizona for prominent West Coast recruits over the next several years.
Louisville series pushed back, UNLV adds Hawaii
Another series that will continue in the 2013-14 season is the current deal with Louisville.
The Cardinals were set to make their second appearance at the Mack under the current contract next season, but Louisville coach Rick Pitino recently phoned UNLV to request that the series go on hold for the next two years.
Louisville had the option of buying the deal out, but did not want it to die altogether.
That left UNLV with a last-second opening on its schedule in late December, and it acted quickly by agreeing two a two-year home-and-home series with Hawaii. That, too, is currently a verbal agreement, with contracts having not yet been signed.
The Rebels will head to Honolulu first, playing there on New Year's Eve this upcoming season. The timing of that game — and the fact that it's not at the Mack — makes it a potential candidate to be picked up by one of the ESPN networks.
The return game will be at the Mack on Dec. 1, 2012.
UNLV has one spot still left to fill on 2011-12 non-con slate
By going to Hawaii, UNLV is allowed to add one more game to its non-conference schedule, which still has a pretty gaping space that needs to be filled.
As it stands, the Dec. 31 contest at Hawaii is currently UNLV's only scheduled game between a Dec. 23 meeting with Cal at the Mack and the Jan. 14 Mountain West opener. UNLV is looking to find an opponent to play at some point in the first two weeks of January, but that's much easier said than done.
"Ninety percent of conferences are already playing league games in the first two weeks of January," Rice said. "We're looking for absolutely anyone who's willing to play us in the first two weeks of January, and that's really difficult right now."
The Rebels would prefer for that game to be at home.
The road non-conference schedule already includes games at UC Santa Barbara, Wichita State, Wisconsin and Illinois at the United Center in Chicago. The highlights of the home portion in non-con play right now include Cal, UTEP and Nevada-Reno.
The Rebels also will play in the Las Vegas Invitational at the Orleans Arena over Thanksgiving weekend. There, they'll open up against USC, with the winner advancing to take on whoever emerges from a semifinal between North Carolina and South Carolina.
"We'd better be ready to play," Rice said. "The fact that we have a really tough schedule should be extra motivation for our guys."
Nothing is set in stone yet in terms of a series between UNLV and now former MWC rival BYU.
But the idea is far from dead.
"It's not on the schedule this year, but something we'll absolutely discuss in the future," Rice said.