Tonight marks the first big test for Rick Pitino's top ten basketball team, and should serve as the perfect distraction from a football situation that has been botched every bit as badly as the entire football season.
LOUISVILLE (2-0) AT UNLV (3-0)
Game Time: 9 p.m.
Site: Thomas & Mack Center: Las Vegas, NV
Favorite: Louisville by 3.5
Probable Starting Lineups
G Andre McGee 18.0 ppg
G Jerry Smith 10.5 ppg
F Terrence Williams 9.0 ppg
F Earl Clark 15.0 ppg
C Terrance Farley 2.0 ppg
G Wink Adams 13.0 ppg
G Terry Curtis 14.3 ppg
F Joe Darger 11.0 ppg
F Matt Shaw 6.7 ppg
F Corey Bailey 9.0 ppg
With all due respect to Andre McGee's newfound dedication to keeping his man from scoring, UNLV point guard Wink Adams will be the best defender on the floor tonight. Adams in the lone returning starter from Lon Kruger's Sweet 16 team of a season ago, and the Runnin' Rebels' unquestioned floor general. When once it was commonplace for the home team to hit triple digits inside the Thomas & Mack Center, the Rebs' offense of today consists of a balanced and fairly modest scoring attack, which is on full display in the form of Adams, who has scored 11, 12, and 16 points in UNLV's first three wins.
The team's leading scorer is senior guard/forward Curtis Terry, who scored 26 in the season opener against Montana State, but cooled off with 11 and six-point performances against Dixie State and San Diego, respectively. Terry is an athletic, above-average shooter who will be in the face of Jerry Smith or Terrence Williams all night.
The UNLV frontcourt has been hurt significantly by the dismissal of junior-college transfer Emmanuel Adeife and the ineligibility of prized 7-foot recruit Beas Hamga. Sophomore Matt Shaw is the Rebs' tallest starter at 6-8, but 6-7 junior Joe Darger - a solid outside shooter - has been Kruger's most productive post player, averaging 11 points and 5.7 rebounds.
If UNLV wins tonight it will be because of defense and ball control, two things that Rick Pitino has criticized his team for its lack of. The Runnin' Rebels are holding opponents to 38.6 percent shooting, and forced 17 turnovers against San Diego on Saturday. They turned the ball over only 11.1 times last season (7th best in the country), and Adams was the man most responsible for that. In a game like this, his experience and composure could be the difference against a team with still young and occasionally excitable guards.
In its first game without its team captain and most level-headed presence on the floor, this is exactly the type of team Rick Pitino did not want to face. Perhaps the most valuable aspect of David Padgett's game is one that has been severely overlooked in the past 24 hours: his free-throw shooting. If the Cards have a late lead, the only guys they can turn to for reliable free-throw shooting are Jerry Smith and Will Scott, and neither handle the ball very well under duress.
But the biggest factor tonight may very well be the home crowd, which has some in Sin City feeling like it's 1990 all over again.
The teams might not be the same. There aren't a number of burgeoning NBA prospects running people off the court anymore, but in the current climate of NCAA hoops, this UNLV team is very good. Comparing the two is kind of like arguing about which Ocean's 11 you like better. When you get down to it, they are both very special. And while Sammy and Dean aren't singing in the lounge, and Larry Johnson isn't laying down dunks, the only place to be seen on Wednesday night will be at the Thomas & Mack Center. Hell, it's going to be so big, I might even have to break out the nice suit and a fedora to go to the game.
With the rise of UNLV, college basketball just seems cool again.
Even though the sudden loss of Padgett has put the team at an understandable disadvantage, a 1-2 or (gulp) 0-3 week would certainly grab the attention of the college basketball world. A win tonight, by any margin, will be a huge success.
--Louisville has won three straight over UNLV, and leads the all-time series 4-3.
--In the most recent meeting between these two, U of L knocked off the Runnin' Rebs 86-85 in overtime to win the 2000 Maui Invitational.
--UNLV is 6-0 all-time in the game it plays immediately before playing Nevada.
--UNLV hasn't started a season 4-0 since 2002.
CC Prediction: Louisville 66, UNLV 64
You're not going to be able to relax and enjoy Thanksgiving break until the wee hours of this evening.