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UNLV men’s golfers out to end drought

Dwaine Knight always tells his UNLV men’s golf team it’s about finishing what you start.

The Rebels will need to heed that advice if they hope to end a seven-year drought at the Mountain West Conference championships, which begin Thursday at Tucson (Ariz.) National Golf Club. UNLV has not won the league title since 2002, primarily because it’s been unable to seal the deal.

“We’ve had some heartbreaking finishes,” Knight said, referring to runner-up showings in 2007, when they lost to Brigham Young by one stroke, and in 2005, when the Rebels were a shot behind New Mexico. “On this golf course, you’re going to have to play the finishing holes well in order to win.”

It might come down to how the Rebels play No. 18. It’s a tough par-4, 443-yard hole with water bordering both sides of the fairway and an elevated green surrounded by bunkers.

“It’s a great finishing hole,” Knight said. “But you have virtually no margin for error.

“Fortunately for us, we’ve played well at Tucson National in the past. Unfortunately, some other teams have also played well there.”

With Texas Christian, New Mexico, San Diego State and Colorado State enjoying successful seasons, UNLV figures to face a battle regardless of which team it is paired with each day of the 54-hole event.

“It’s as deep a league as I can remember,” Knight said.

The Rebels have depth and experience.

Eddie Olson missed the recent Ping Cougar Classic with a sore right wrist. But Olson, the 2008 MWC individual champion, has recovered and made the starting lineup, joining Derek Ernst, Colby Smith, Brett Kanda and freshman Kevin Penner.

Penner, who finished tied for 10th at Provo, Utah, on April 24, is replacing junior Jeremiah Wooding, who has been hampered by a bad back.

“Having Eddie back is huge,” Knight said. “His experience and knowing how to win is a factor. That he’s won at Tucson National is big.”

Knight said Ernst has bounced back from his shaky play at the Southern Highlands Intercollegiate in mid-March. The sophomore from Clovis, Calif., has shot par or below in his past four rounds.

“When you’re a sophomore, you have a lot of expectations, and Derek has had a great year,” Knight said, noting Ernst leads the team in stroke average with 71.11 per round.

■ NOTES — UNLV has received oral commitments for 2011 from golfers Kurt Kitayama of Chico, Calif., the 2009 Northern California Player of the Year, and Carl Jonson of Bainbridge Island, Wash., who is the top-ranked junior player in the state of Washington. … This is the fourth consecutive year that Tucson National has hosted the Mountain West championships.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

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