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March 25, 2019

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UNLV gets Kentucky in NIT

NCAA

Tiffany Brown

UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis, right, watches the NCAA selections. The Rebels learned later they will play at Kentucky Tuesday in the National Invitational Tournament.

Rebels: NIT Bound

After losing in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference Tournament, UNLV is headed to the NIT as a four seed to face fifth-seeded Kentucky Tuesday night.

Basketball Banquet

UNLV basketball players watch as NCAA tournament selections are announced Sunday after the 2009 Runnin' Rebel Banquet at Cox Pavilion. Launch slideshow »

UPDATED STORY: NIT-bound Rebels get date on the road with Kentucky

As expected, the 65-team NCAA tournament field was announced Sunday afternoon and UNLV was not a part of the festivities.

The surprise came a few hours later, when the National Invitation Tournament field was announced and the Rebels were seeded fifth against No. 4-seeded Kentucky, in Lexington, on Tuesday night. The game will take place at 6:30 p.m.

Rupp Arena, because of previous booking, won't even be the venue. The game will be played at Memorial Coliseum.

“You never know, of course,” said fifth-year UNLV coach Lon Kruger. “We didn’t have much way of anticipating that one.”

The Rebels (21-10) and Wildcats (20-13) are in the Creighton Regional of the NIT. No. 1 Creighton opens against eighth-seeded Bowling Green.

UNLV is 0-3 against Kentucky, which missed the NCAAs for the first time since 1991 because of probation.

Jodie Meeks, a 6-foot-4 junior guard, leads the Wildcats with a 24.2-point scoring average. Meeks scored 54 at Tennessee and 45 at Arkansas. He also tallied 46, 39 and 37 in other games this season.

Patrick Patterson, a 6-9 sophomore forward, averages 18.2 points for Kentucky.

Although UNLV personnel had not finalized any travel or schedule or meeting plans as of 8 p.m. on Sunday, Kruger had reviewed a couple of tapes of Kentucky.

“They’re very active and athletic,” he said. “Patterson is a big guy in the post, and Meeks is terrific. And the guys around them, they’re very good.”

Memorial Coliseum will offer its own special challenge.

“It’ll be an aggressive environment, very hostile,” Kruger said. “That type of environment, it’s a much smaller gym than Rupp. It’ll be a big challenge. I’m sure our guys are looking forward to it, absolutely.”

Thursday afternoon, UNLV (21-10) was ousted from a quarterfinal of the Mountain West Conference tournament by San Diego State in the Thomas & Mack Center.

The top No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament was Louisville, which won the regular season and tournament titles in the Big East. Oddly enough, UNLV downed the Cards on Dec. 31 at Freedom Hall on national television, 56-55.

The Mountain West only earned two bids into the tournament. They went to tournament champ Utah, who as a No. 5 seed will open up against No. 12 Arizona, and BYU, who drew an 8-seed and begins its postseason quest against No. 9 Texas A&M.

San Diego State was the last MWC team to have its bubble burst. The Aztecs finished the season 23-9 with a pair of wins in the league tournament before falling to Utah in the title game, 52-50, on Saturday.

SDSU and UNLV will more than likely be joined by fellow league program New Mexico in the NIT.

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