UNLV, Duke set to play first basketball game in new MGM arena

NEW YORK — It has been 23 years since Mike Krzyzewski coached Duke against UNLV, and the two sides finally could cross paths again this weekend.

But even if a long-awaited showdown does not materialize Saturday, the Rebels and Blue Devils are set to face off in the future. So, circle this date on the calendar: Dec. 15, 2016.

A contract is on the table for UNLV and Duke to meet in the first college basketball game at the new MGM Resorts arena in two years. The contract has not been signed, but multiple sources indicated the game will happen.

The 20,000-seat MGM/AEG arena, a $375 million project under construction, is planned to open in spring 2016.

“We would love to be a team that plays the first college basketball game in that arena,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “We have tremendous respect for Duke’s program and Coach K.

“We’re trying to build an elite program. For us to be in that type of game, that’s what we’re trying to do with our schedule as a whole is play in prestigious events against quality opponents.”

One of those events takes place this weekend. The Rebels (2-0) are underdogs to Stanford (2-0) on Friday in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., where No. 4 Duke (3-0) is a big favorite against Temple (2-0) in the second game. The final rounds are Saturday.

Two days after the proposed UNLV-Duke game in December 2016, a four-team event featuring Kentucky is tentatively planned for the new MGM arena.

Rice has scheduled several high-profile games for the Rebels, who are in the 2015 Maui Invitational field with Kansas and UCLA. UNLV also has home-and-home series in place with Arizona and Kansas.

The Rebels and Blue Devils met in two of the most memorable games in NCAA Tournament history, with UNLV winning the 1990 national championship game in a 103-73 blowout before being upset by Duke 79-77 in a Final Four semifinal in 1991.

Krzyzewski has been a constant on the Blue Devils’ bench. Meanwhile, the Rebels have had 10 head coaches and interim coaches — Rollie Massimino, Tim Grgurich, Cleveland Edwards, Howie Landa, Bill Bayno, Max Good, Charlie Spoonhour, Jay Spoonhour, Lon Kruger and Rice — since Jerry Tarkanian left in 1992.

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

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