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UNLV will find things to do at relocated Maui Classic

One of the highlights of this year’s UNLV basketball schedule was to be a junket to Hawaii for the Maui Classic.

On Friday, the iconic early season tournament featuring Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and the Rebels was switched to Asheville, North Carolina, because of COVID-19 and Hawaii’s strict quarantine rules.

Vacation packages to paradise have been on sale at UNLV since February, and refunds surely will be requested.

But should things change before tipoff Nov. 30 and Dr. Fauci give the tournament his blessing, fans who get stuck with Maui tickets might be pleasantly surprised.

Instead of games being played in a 2,400-seat bandbox that didn’t have air conditioning until North Carolina coach Roy Williams complained he was sweating too much, tournament headquarters will be the ExploreAshville.com Arena at Harrah’s Cherokee Center.

The arena holds 7,674, and as its name suggests, there actually are things to do in Asheville.

Starting with the Biltmore Estate, which at 178,926 square feet is the largest privately owned residence in the U.S. The mansion was built in the late 1800s for George Washington Vanderbilt II, whose family made a fortune through steamboats and railroads, and whose university in Tennessee usually loses by three or four touchdowns to Alabama.

The Blue Ridge Mountains around Asheville are so spectacular that the “Hunger Games” movies were filmed there, as was the critically acclaimed “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” I’m told by a friend who has been to Asheville that there are shops, galleries, bistros, beer pubs and a vibrant music scene — the Moog Music Factory, honoring the electric synthesizer, is in Asheville.

Roberta Flack and “Cowboy” Joe West, the baseball umpire, were born in Asheville, although touring the childhood home of the latter is not on the official list of 50 things to do put out by the local chamber of commerce.

Around the horn

— Two years ago when the Golden Knights advanced to the Stanley Cup Final against the Washington Capitals, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, coach Gerard Gallant and defenseman Deryk Engelland were the holy trinity of Las Vegas hockey.

Fleury has since become the caddie for another goaltender; Gallant is having coffee and doughnuts at Tim Hortons on Prince Edward Island after being fired following a four-game losing streak; and Engelland, a longtime Las Vegas resident who lifted local spirits with a moving on-ice speech following the Oct. 1 mass shooting on the Strip, spent nearly two months in a playoff bubble without setting a skate on the ice.

Professional sports can be a heartless business.

— If Alec Mills, the unassuming Chicago Cubs pitcher who threw a no-hitter against the Milwaukee Brewers last Sunday, looked familiar to astute Las Vegas baseball fans, it might be because he was the same guy who got the starting nod against the Cincinnati Reds on Big League Weekend on March 7 at Las Vegas Ballpark.

Mills allowed four hits in 3 2/3 innings as the Reds rallied for an 8-5 victory in one of the last baseball games played before live spectators rather than cardboard cutouts.

— It’s possible given the follow the leader mentality in college sports regarding COVID-19 that the Mountain West will play football this season after initially saying it would not.

That would be great for coaches, players, fans and Boise State, which, it can be assumed, has money in reserve based on its semiregular trips to the Fiesta Bowl.

What nobody will say for the record: Playing football only against one another would not be so great for the bottom line for most Mountain West teams who depend on financial guarantees from “body bag” games against Power Five teams to balance their budgets.

0:01

Who of the following was not a Russian goaltender for one of the NHL’s final four teams? A: Anton Khudobin; B: Andrei Vasilevskiy; C: Semyon Varlamov; D: Illya Kuryakin.

Answer: Khudobin, Vasilevskiy and Varlamov were between the pipes for the Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders, respectively. Illya Kuryakin was a character from “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” 1960s spy TV show played by David McCallum — and by Armie Hammer in the much more forgettable 2015 movie of the same name.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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