Published Sunday, March 13, 2011 | 3:30 p.m.
Updated Sunday, March 13, 2011 | 4:13 p.m.
The UNLV basketball team received an at-large bid Sunday to the NCAA Tournament, receiving a No. 8 seed in the Southwest Region. They open the 68-team tournament Friday against Illinois in Tulsa.
The Rebels, who last year fell to Northern Iowa in the final seconds in the first round, will be looking for their first NCAA Tournament win since 2008. The winner of the UNLV-Illinois game advances to play Sunday against the winner of No. 1 seed Kansas against Boston University.
UNLV (24-8) opened the season with nine wins and was ranked as high as No. 20 in the polls. It has victories against three teams that have beaten the nation’s No. 1 team — Wisconsin, Virginia Tech and Kansas State.
But UNLV’s hot start fizzled in December, with the Rebels posting a 3-3 record in their next six games. They went 0-5 against league powers BYU and San Diego State, including falling by two points against San Diego State two days ago in the Mountain West Conference semifinals.
The Rebels were able to rally through the trials and tribulations of the season, winning six straight games before being knocked out of the league tournament. Tough road wins at New Mexico and Colorado State three weeks ago essentially secured the at-large bid.
UNLV is playing in its fourth tournament in the last five years. As a No. 7 seed in 2007, the Rebels beat Georgia Tech in the first round and No. 2-seeded Wisconsin in the second to reach the Sweet 16. In the following year, they were seeded eighth and beat Kent State in the first round before losing to eventual national champ Kansas.
The program has four times reached the Final Four, including winning the 1990 national championship. The Rebels are 33-16 all-time in the tournament.