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Rebels headed to Albuquerque for NCAA Tournament opener against Colorado

UNLV receives a No. 6 seed; could play Baylor-South Dakota State winner in the next round

0311selection01

Steve Marcus

UNLV Rebels react as they find out their selection for the NCAA tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center Sunday, March 11, 2012. The Rebels will face Colorado at Albuquerque on Thursday.

Updated Sunday, March 11, 2012 | 3:44 p.m.

Rebels to Face Colorado

Oscar Bellfield, left, Brice Massamba, center, and Mike Moser of the UNLV Rebels react as they find out their selection for the NCAA tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center Sunday, March 11, 2012. The Rebels will face Colorado at Albuquerque. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

Rebels draw Colorado in NCAA opener

Las Vegas Sun reporters Taylor Bern and Ray Brewer take a look at the UNLV basketball team's opening round opponent in the NCAA Tournament — Pac-12 tournament champions Colorado.

The UNLV basketball team will be making its third straight NCAA Tournament appearance, receiving a No. 6 seed Sunday in the South Region and drawing Pac-12 tournament champion Colorado as a first-round opponent in Albuquerque.

The Rebels, which received one of 37 at-large bids in the 68-team field, will play at about 7 p.m. Thursday on truTV (Cox cable 54). If victorious, they would play the Baylor-South Dakota State winner in the next round. A potential game with Duke, the region's No. 2 seed and UNLV's Final Four nemesis from the early 1990s, would occur in the Sweet 16 if both schools won their first two games.

The players watched the selection show at the Thomas & Mack Center with about 1,000 fans, who sang the fight song and chanted "Rebels, Rebels" after the announcement. CBS cameras switched to the gathering after UNLV learned of its draw.

It’s been an up-and-down season for the Rebels (26-8), which lost Saturday in the Mountain West Conference semifinals and have a 6-5 record since Feb. 1. In Dave Rice’s first-year at the helm, the Rebels opened with eight straight victories — including upsetting then No. 1 North Carolina — in nearly cracking the top-10 of the national rankings.

“We’re just glad to be in the tournament right now,” said forward Mike Moser, UNLV’s leading scorer. “The way the season ended up we were all a little disappointed, but we have a chance to make everybody forget about that.”

The Rebels are looking for their first tournament victory since 2008 when they beat Kent State in the first round. They were eliminated by Kansas that year in the round of 32.

After missing the tournament in 2009, the Rebels were selected the past two seasons and lost both years, falling in 2010 late to Northern Iowa and losing last year to Illinois.

It’s the program’s 19th appearance in the tournament, including winning the 1990 national championship against Duke and making the Final Four the following season — the last of the Rebels’ four Final Four appearances. Following the 1991 tournament appearance, UNLV didn’t win a tournament game until the 2007 season when they advanced to the Sweet 16 with victories against Georgia Tech and Wisconsin. During the worst stretch in program history, UNLV made just two tournaments from 1992 to 2006.

The tournament’s No. 1 seeds are: Kentucky (the top overall seed and in UNLV’s South Region), Syracuse, North Carolina and Michigan State.

UNLV is one of four Mountain West Conference teams in the tournament — a big-team feat for the eight-team league, which is considered a mid-major conference. League tournament champion New Mexico is the No. 5 seed in the West and will play Long Beach State of the Big West.

San Diego State, the league’s regular season champion, is the No. 6 seed in the Midwest and will play N.C. State in Nashville

Colorado State received a No. 11 in the West Region and will open against Murray State. The fans at the Mack cheered when Colorado State was announced, acknowledging the accomplishment for the league and the long-term benefits of having four teams picked. A few even clapped when San Diego State, the Rebels’ heated league rival, was picked.

Of regional interest, Western Athletic Conference regular season champ UNR was left out of the tournament after falling in the WAC tournament to Louisiana Tech. Former Mountain West member BYU is one of the last teams in the field and will play Iona in the first round — which some refer to as the play in game.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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