Nevada Las Vegas, the nation's 13th-ranked team, doesn't have a lot at stake in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. tournament, which decides the conference's automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. The Runnin' Rebels will be playing next week no matter what happens at the Forum this weekend.
UNLV's first-round matchup Thursday night was with a struggling Fresno State team, but a Bulldog-Rebel game still brings out thousands of red-clad fans from both sides--and this time, anyway, the best in the Rebels.
Las Vegas had a 9-0 lead before the Fresno faithful had a chance to sit down--the Red Wavers always stand until the Bulldogs' first basket--and ran away with a 68-49 victory.
Rebel forward Anthony Jones, the conference's Co-Player of the Year, hit 9 of 13 shots, including 4 of 6 three-pointers, and finished with 24 points. The Rebels' other forward, Armon Gilliam, made 7 of 8 had 17 points and 6 rebounds.
But then, just about everyone in red and gray played well.
"I told the kids I thought they played sensationally," Rebel Coach Jerry Tarkanian said. "We played hard, but we played intelligently, too. Late in the game, we worked the clock beautifully."
UNLV (29-4) led, 27-22, at halftime, and Fresno closed within two, at 29-27, with 17:10 left in the second half. But, Eldridge Hudson scored the old-fashioned kind of three-point play, and Jones, as he has done all season, came up with the big basket when the Rebels needed one. He hit a 20-footer from the corner, and Las Vegas led, 35-29. UNLV pulled steadily away after that.
Fresno State, which finished 15-15 (its worst record since 1977), was outmanned. The Bulldogs lost forward Jos Kuipers, their only bona fide outside shooter, last month with a knee injury, and an already disappointing season got worse.
"It's been a long, long year," Fresno State Coach Boyd Grant admitted. "But the 'Dogs will be back."
As for the Rebels, they're hoping this is just the beginning of a long and successful postseason.
New Mexico State 74, Utah State 71--Forward Gilbert Wilburn scored 28 points, including an 18-foot jumper with 51 seconds left and two free throws with three seconds remaining, as New Mexico State held on to win.
New Mexico State (17-11) opened a 13-point lead early in the second half, but Utah State (12-16) rallied and tied the game, 62-62. Utah State Coach Rod Tueller called time out, but Utah State lost the momentum and missed its next six field-goal attempts and went more than four minutes without scoring.
Still, Utah State pulled within one point, 72-71, on PCAA Co-Player of the Year Greg Grant's three-pointer with eight seconds left. Grant finished with 21 points.
Wilburn, who made 7 of his first 9 shots and had 18 points at halftime, did most of the damage for New Mexico State, while teammate Kenny Travis added 18 points.
Pacific 55, San Jose State 53--Guard James Gleaves' only field goal of the game, a three-pointer with 15 seconds remaining, lifted the Tigers to their first conference tournament victory since 1980.
San Jose State took a 53-52 lead after Ward Farris, who led the Spartans with 17 points, stole the ball from Gleaves and went the distance for a dunk with 1:44 left.
The Spartans had a chance to run out the clock after Lance Wyatt missed two free throws with 42 seconds left. But Farris threw away the inbound pass.
The game, played at 2 p.m. before a few hundred fans, was sloppy. Pacific (17-13) committed 21 turnovers, but San Jose State (16-13) shot just 37% from the field. Forty-six fouls were called, and three players fouled out.
The Spartans were having plenty of their own offensive problems, however.
San Jose's Ricky Berry, who was averaging 19 points a game, had just 12 points before fouling out with 3:36 remaining.
San Jose took 32 first-half shots but made just 10.
Pacific didn't burn the nets either, shooting 48%.