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 in the Forum. The result was a 99-65 victory that made Fullerton Coach George McQuarn wonder about his chosen profession, and that Tarkanian called "absolutely awesome."
Center Jarvis Basnight led five Rebels in double-figures with 15 points as UNLV moved into the championship game of the tournament for the fifth straight season. The Titans figured they had to reach the title game to be considered for a berth in the National Invitation Tournament. Instead, it's likely they'll have to settle for a 17-13 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. When it was over, UNLV had a 57-26 lead, and 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 inbound 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 does in an 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.
Tarkanian said he can never be sure when his team might turn the intensity level up a few notches, as it did Friday night. "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 7 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 eight 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. The Titans had hoped to get to the championship game, feeling that the 18 victories that would have given them might be enough to warrant an invitation to the NIT. Now, after losing in the semifinals for the third straight time, McQuarn figures his 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."
The victory was UNLV's 17th straight since a much talked-about 89-88 loss to Oklahoma on Jan. 17. McQuarn, who was an assistant to Tarkanian at UNLV when the Rebels made their last trip to the NCAA Final Four, was certainly in awe. Afterward, he was asked if he or his players felt a sense of helplessness when UNLV was in the midst of its 35-minute "spurt."
"Maybe it was hopelessness," he said.