Jerry Tarkanian's Spurtin' Rebels were at it again Friday night. Nevada Las Vegas, given to outbursts of sudden scoring and relentless defense, followed that pattern again.
The difference was that this "spurt" lasted about 35 minutes.
From the opening tipoff until second-half garbage time, the top-ranked Rebels thoroughly dominated Cal State Fullerton in a semifinal game of the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. tournament at the Forum. The result was a 99-65 victory, which caused Fullerton Coach George McQuarn to wonder about his chosen profession. Tarkanian called the Rebels' performance "absolutely awesome."
Center Jarvis Basnight led five Rebels in double figures with 15 points as UNLV moved into the championship game of this tournament for the fifth straight season. The Rebels will play San Jose State (16-13), which defeated UC Santa Barbara, 70-69, in the other semifinal.
The Titans figured to need to reach the title game to get consideration for a berth in the National Invitational Tournament. Instead, it's likely they'll have to settle for a 17-12 season.
UNLV has won 32 games this season--and lost only one--but Tarkanian said this one ranks among the best. The first half was a clinic in how to harass an opponent into submission.
UNLV led, 57-26, at the intermission as the Titans' emotional, first-round victory over UC Irvine Thursday night was all but forgotten.
"Talk about the highs and lows of this business," McQuarn said. "Geez."
For Fullerton, nearly every first-half possession meant an exhausting effort to get the ball to the front court in the allotted 10 seconds. Every inbounds pass made it appear as if there were two Rebels to every Titan. Fullerton was forced to expend more energy in one half than it had does in the average game. And it showed.
Fullerton shot 33% (8 of 24) from the field in the first half, and committed 11 turnovers.
Meanwhile, UNLV was a blistering 22 of 31 (71%) from the field, and made 6 of 11 three-point shots. A little more than three minutes into the second half, the Rebels were resting on a 37-point lead, their biggest of the game.
"All you saw out there was just a thorough butt-kicking," McQuarn said.
Tarkaian said he can never be sure when his team might turn the intensity level up a few notches, as it did in this case.
"They always act like they're ready, even when they're not," he said. "But they were ready tonight."
Forward Armon Gilliam, the Rebels' leading scorer, had a rather quiet 13 points, but it didn't matter. His teammates made plenty of noise. Basnight had 13 of his 15 points in the first half and collected seven rebounds. Guard Mark Wade, who set an NCAA, single-season assist record in Thursday night's first-round rout of Cal State Long Beach, had 8 assists by halftime. Gary Graham and Eldridge Hudson had 14 points each, and Freddie Banks added 12.
Richard Morton led Fullerton with 21 points, but needed to attempt a tournament-record 24 shots to get them. Junior guard Alexander Hamilton, who seems to be at his best against the Rebels, had 14.
The Titans had hoped to get to the championship game, feeling that the 18 wins that would have given them might have been enough to warrant an invitation to the NIT. Now, McQuarn figures team's season is over.
"I never had a feeling that we could get to the NIT without getting to the final of the tournament," he said. "But if we had gotten by UNLV, I wouldn't have been thinking NIT. I would have been thinking NCAA."