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Majerus says thanks but no thanks to ESPN

If you want to get Ute basketball coach Rick Majerus riled up, ask him about playing the WAC tournament, where his team must play three games in three nights to win the championship. Top that off with a question about playing the tournament in Las Vegas, with its gambling influence. Throw in one about playing the ESPN Big Monday game and Majerus really gets rolling.

"I'd love to see what these guys in the conference office got their degrees in," he said.This is the time of year that Majerus has plenty of opinions about how the Western Athletic Conference is run. He doesn't like the idea of the tournament, which always falls the week before final exams. He hates the fact that his team must stay at a hotel with a casino during the WAC tourney. And now, just a week before the tournament, his team must play one of those late-night Monday affairs that he loathes.

Tonight his Utes (22-2, 9-2) meet UNLV (14-11, 5-6) at 10 p.m. (ESPN-TV) in the Huntsman Center.

"If they think they're throwing me a bone, I'll give it right back to them," said Majerus of the first and only late-night Big Monday game for the Utes this year after they played two each of the past two seasons.

Majerus can't think of a single good reason to play these late-night contests that the WAC has been a part of for three years.

"It's bad for academics, it's dispruptive for fans, it could cause injuries," he said. "How many kids are going to be here Monday night? There's a great cadre of old fans and I'm sure they're like my mom who's 72 - at 10 o'clock they're down for the count. Then you've got those who've got to go to work the next morning."

Majerus said he may even instruct his team to do something he's only done once or twice in his career - to sleep in the next day and not bother with classes. That's because the Utes must leave later Tuesday for El Paso, where they'll play a Thursday night game. After that, they must return home for a Saturday night game against New Mexico. Then they could have three more games next week.

Before all that, however, the Utes must worry about UNLV.

In the Rebels, the Utes will face one of the league's most disappointing teams this year. The Rebels were a solid No. 3 pick in the preseason poll for the Mountain Division and even got some votes to win the division.

But they've struggled most of the season and when the two teams met last month in a nationally televised contest in Las Vegas, the Utes cruised to a 67-54 victory that wasn't that close.

Keon Clark, the Rebels' 6-11 center who is expected to be a high draft choice after this year, was suspended for the first month of the season and earlier this month was suspended again, indefinitely.

Majerus says his absence could help the team "band together" and play better.

"I have tremendous respect for UNLV's talent, athletic ability and how hard they play defense," he said. "They can stretch you with the three and also take you inside."

The Rebels will likely start Kevin Simmons and Donovan Stewart at forwards, Issiah Epps at center and Brian Keefe and Mark Dickel at guards, an almost completely different starting lineup than the one the Utes saw in Las Vegas.

Former starter Corky Ausborne quit the team 10 days ago, and leading scorer Tyrone Nesby and leading rebounder Kas Kambala are both coming off the bench, along with guard Greedy Daniels.

The Utes will go with their usual starting lineup and hope that David Jackson, who sat out Saturday's win over Air Force with a sprained ankle, is OK to play. Also freshman Trace Caton has been playing with a sore thigh for two weeks, and his time may be limited.