The 2-3 Rebels, who beat Auburn 82-69 last December in Las Vegas, feature 10 transfer players headed by three backcourt seniors. “They have very athletic wing players and very good scoring wing players in (Romel) Beck and (Odartey) Blankson,” Auburn coach Jeff Lebo says.
Blackson, who played his first two collegiate seasons at Marquette, was a first team All-Mountain West Conference selection a year ago after averaging 17.6 points and 10.2 rebounds. He had a strong game against Auburn last season with 16 points and 13 boards.
Also at the wing for the Rebels is Romel Beck, who is averaging 16 points per game this season after scoring 14.2 in 2003-2004.
Running the show at point guard for UNLV is 5-10 Jerel Blassingame, who played at Los Angeles City College with Beck before arriving at UNLV. Blassingame was a third team All-Mountain West Conference player last season, scoring 11.2 points per game and dishing out 6.6 assists. He is averaging 8.2 points and seven assists this season.
“Vegas is a very athletic team,” Lebo says. “They have good size. They’ll start 6-7 at the two spot (Beck), 6-7 at the three spot (Blackson), and there will be 6-9 (Louis Amundson) and 6-9 inside (Dustin Vilepique). As in most games, we will be outsized at just about every spot except the point guard.”
Amundson is averaging 9.2 points and 6.8 boards this season while making 61 percent of his shots. Although Vilipique is only averaging 6.8 points per game, he leads the conference in field goal percentage at 67 percent.
UNLV Coach Lon Kruger
Off the bench, Kruger’s top two subs are 6-2 guard Michael Umeh and 6-9 center Joel Anthony.
The Runnin’ Rebels will be making the trip to Auburn for their fourth consecutive road game. UNLV lost to St. Mary’s 64-54 to start the season, then beat Oregon State 86-61 and California 73-72. They’ve lost their last two games 84-78 at Nevada and 86-78 at Pepperdine.
Auburn is coming off a solid road win 76-61 against College of Charleston on Tuesday night. The Tigers had lost their previous two games to Virginia and Wofford. The game vs. UNLV will be televised by Fox Sports Net.
The 6-2 Tigers are led by a pair of guards, senior Ian Young and freshman Toney Douglas. Douglas, who had a 38-point game against Nicholls State and 33 against Virginia, is second in the Southeastern Conference in scoring at 19 points per game. Young, who had 28 points in the season opener at Temple, is fourth in the SEC at 18.4 points per contest.
Toney Douglas has been a productive newcomer for Jeff Lebo.
Auburn’s leading rebounder is 6-6 senior forward Quinnel Brown, who has contributed 13.4 points per game, 6.8 boards and 2.5 assists. Also expected to start for the Tigers is freshman forward Daniel Hayles and senior guard Nathan Watson.
Brown (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Watson (11 points, 10 rebounds) are coming off their first Auburn double-doubles against College of Charleston. Senior forward Ronny LeMelle is not expected to play after re-injuring his right knee against Wofford on Dec. 5.
UNLV coach Lon Kruger is in his first season at Vegas after previous head coaching jobs at Pan American, Kansas State, Florida (where he led the Gators to a Final Four in 1994), Illinois and the Atlanta Hawks. He spent last season as an assistant for the New York Knicks.
Game Notes: After being selected as the Big 8 Basketball Player of the Year in 1973 and 1974 at Kansas State, Kruger was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks and was invited to the Dallas Cowboys rookie camp, but decided to sign a free agent contract with the St. Louis Cardinals to play baseball instead...Fans attending the basketball game will have an opportunity to take have their photo taken with the 2004 SEC Football Championship Trophy. The trophy will be on display on the upper concourse beginning at 12:30 p.m. and will remain on display throughout the game. Fans must bring their own camera for pictures...All youth 17 and under receive free admission with the purchase of an adult ticket.
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