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Rebels basketball:

UNLV-Duke matchup will conjure up plenty of early-‘90s nostalgia

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Jeremy Rincon

UNLV coach Marvin Menzies, right, and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski discuss their nonconference matchup on Dec. 10 during a news conference on Thursday, July 21, 2016 at the Mendenhall Center.

Since the last time UNLV and Duke met on the court, the Rebels have had nine different full-time head coaches. The Blue Devils still have Mike Krzyzewski, and as the teams look ahead to their first meeting since 1991, Coach K reflected on the back-to-back NCAA Tournament meetings that for many defined college basketball in the '90s.

“The games between UNLV and Duke were some of the best in the history of the sport,” Krzyzewski said. “I would hope that it’s not only a great game, a great cause and we play well — hopefully we play a little bit better — but that it also conjures up memories of the great players, of Jerry and the great program he built here.”

In the first college basketball game at T-Mobile Arena, UNLV will play Duke on Dec. 10. The game, which has been in the works for nearly two years, is part of a loaded nonconference schedule for the Rebels that also includes Kansas at home and Oregon in Portland.

“I had nothing to do with the schedule, by the way,” joked first-year coach Marvin Menzies. “But I’m going to embrace every opportunity and every challenge that we have.”

UNLV season-ticket holders will be able to get a discounted rate for tickets to the game, which is being put on by bd Global and will benefit Coaches vs. Cancer. Krzyzewski talked about the fight against cancer in terms of trying to win a war, something that Menzies witnessed up close as his father battled prostate cancer.

“Due to the research and the backing of so many generous philanthropic people, we’ve been able to win a lot of those battles,” Menzies said.

The two coaches spoke Thursday at the Mendenhall Center shortly before the USA Basketball Men’s National Team’s final practice of training camp. Tonight, they will play an exhibition game against Argentina at T-Mobile before leaving for a nationwide exhibition tour leading up to the Rio Olympic Games.

Krzyzewski has been the men’s national team coach since 2005, and in recent years the training has always started in Las Vegas. Other than the lukewarm receptions he received before, Krzyzewski asked to not be announced for exhibition games here — “It wasn’t applause, let’s put it that way,” he said — Krzyzewski has loved the experiences in the city and using the Rebels’ facilities.

“No city in the United States could have done a better job of embracing USA Basketball than this city,” Krzyzewski said. “This has been unbelievable, and for UNLV to provide us the logistics and support, seamless. It’s been perfect and it’s been a key factor in the success we’ve enjoyed thus far.”

The Westgate Las Vegas made Duke the preseason betting favorite for the national championship while UNLV is at the beginning of a nearly total rebuild. But Menzies is trying to help everyone focus on the future and not what this year’s matchup could have been.

“When you look at what we had before I got here, if people were to evaluate that too much it takes away from where we’re at today and who we have on the floor that I’m practicing with now,” Menzies said. “We’ve got some great Rebels who are in the house and wearing the scarlet and gray proud.”

And even though Menzies didn’t put this game together, he used it as a positive when selling the program to recruits.

“This is great for our guys,” Menzies said. “Trust me, they’ve already earmarked it on their calendars.”

More than 25 years have gone by since Duke exacted some revenge for the largest defeat in national championship history in 1990 by ending UNLV’s perfect season at the 1991 Final Four, but every year images from those games continue to pop up. UNLV was the better team the first time around, Krzyzewski said, but the Blue Devils added Grant Hill and fought back to create games that still live on for many people.

“Jerry and I became great friends,” Krzyzewski said. “… The UNLV brand of basketball has not gone away. It may need to be heightened, that’s what (Menzies is) going to try to do, but it’s there. You have a tremendous history of success and a style of play that really made other people want to play that way. Jerry and I always felt that we played a little bit alike as far as defense goes.”

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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