ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Five years ago, when Carlon Brown was close to committing to UNLV, a skinny shooting guard from Mesa, Ariz., changed his plans.
"Before I took my visit, Kendall Wallace took the last scholarship," Brown said. "I probably would have ended up there."
Instead, Brown went to Utah, and then after three years he transferred to Colorado. Two years later, he and Wallace will cross paths again, with one continuing his college basketball career and the other calling it a career with a loss in the NCAA Tournament.
The sixth-seeded Rebels (26-8) open play in the South region against the 11th-seeded Buffaloes (23-11) at about 6:55 p.m. today at The Pit. The winner advances to face either Baylor or South Dakota State on Saturday.
UNLV is seeking its first NCAA Tournament win since 2008, and Wallace is the last man standing from that team. Knee surgery forced Wallace to redshirt last season, while Brown redshirted at Colorado.
Brown, a 6-foot-5-inch swingman, is the Buffaloes' leading scorer at 12.6 points per game, and he's the primary player the Rebels are concerned with stopping.
"As good as he was at Utah, he's even better. He's playing the way we as coaches would hope that our seniors would play," UNLV coach Dave Rice said. "He's playing at a very high level right now."
Brown called it "pretty ironic" that he's running into the Rebels in March of his senior year but denied that the situation provides added motivation.
"That's old news," he said. "I didn't have a personal vendetta. This is just another one of those coincidental matchups."
Brown, from Riverside, Calif., averaged 15.8 points and shot 50 percent from the field to help carry Colorado to four wins in four days in the Pacific-12 Conference tournament last week in Los Angeles. He was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
Teams from the Mountain West are 11-3 against Pac-12 opponents this season, and only the Buffaloes and California got into the NCAA's 68-team field after a down year in their league.
"We want to represent this conference well," Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "There are only two of us in this tournament. We both have a responsibility to our league and to the other Pac-12 teams to represent well."
About two hours after Boyle's comment, 12th-seeded California was bounced in a 65-54 loss to South Florida at Dayton, Ohio. To make matters worse for the Pac-12, Arizona fell at home to Bucknell in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
The Buffaloes, who upset Arizona in the Pac-12 title game, are rolling into the NCAA Tournament and unafraid of the Rebels.
"We're very confident," Brown said. "We know we have a lot of momentum going."
Boyle said he plans to let his team play at a fast pace with UNLV, so transition defense will be paramount for Colorado if Boyle is true to his word.
"We're going to still play our game, look to run and look to get stops," Brown said. "They are pretty fast. But it's not a whole track team we're going against."
Rice expects to use several defenders on the explosive Brown, most likely a combination of senior forward Chace Stanback and junior guards Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins.
"He's a very aggressive scorer," Marshall said of Brown. "He's a strong right-hand driver, so we have to sit on his right hand to make him go left or to make him pass."
The pivotal matchup figures to take place at the power forward spot, where the Rebels' Mike Moser and the Buffaloes' Andre Roberson will battle for rebounds and scoring opportunities. Rice called Roberson a "relentless rebounder."
UNLV's players are intending to rebound and make amends for last year's blowout loss to Illinois in their NCAA Tournament opener.
"You don't always get second chances in our game," Rice said. "This is another game, but it's more than that. It's the NCAA Tournament. I think our guys understand the magnitude of that."
Wallace probably will be the most comfortable shooter at The Pit, where he hit seven 3-pointers in the Rebels' victory over New Mexico on Jan. 9, 2010. His 21 points were a career high.
If his college career continues beyond today, Brown's will end here. Either way, it's pretty ironic.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907.