NCAA BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT : WEST REGIONAL : Wyoming Ready to Take Its Best Shot Against Las Vegas

Times Staff Writer

The underdog is panting heavily in the West Regional, where Wyoming, the pest in the West, meets Nevada-Las Vegas, the best in the West as well as the north, south and east at the present time.

All that could change tonight should No. 1-ranked UNLV get roped into thinking the Cowboys don't have a chance, which of course they do. Just ask Fennis Dembo.

"We won a couple of games and people think it's a fluke," said Dembo, who dismantled Virginia and destroyed UCLA. "Vegas will show where we are on the scale of NCAA basketball. They're at 100. We'll see where we're at."

The scales are tipping toward the Rebels. If Wyoming (24-9) were to beat UNLV (35-1), it would surely be a very large scale upset.

"Don't count us out yet," said Wyoming Coach Jim Brandenburg.

OK, that should come later, shortly after Wyoming and UNLV tip off at 9:41 in the second game of the evening, following the intriguing matchup at 7:07 p.m. between Iowa (29-4), one of only two survivors from the Big Ten, and Oklahoma (24-9) of the Big Eight, which has a coach who sounds as though he's practicing a lounge act.

If Jack Nicholson were a coach, he would sound just like Sooner Coach Billy Tubbs, who worked his press conference Thursday like he was working a crowd at a nightclub. Not many teams have found much humor playing Iowa, but Tubbs thinks basketball is a funny game and certainly a high-scoring one.

So, Billy, how will you play the Hawkeyes?

"The way I see it, we'll press them," he said. "If they score, we'll throw it right on back down and score on them. Then they'll pass it to the other end of the floor and score on us.

"I think it's going to be who can throw the long pass the quickest the most. I think it'll be who has the most completions on 70- and 80-foot passes. This will be one of the first games where they keep passing statistics and yardage. You know, Iowa will complete 10 of 26 passes for 756 feet."

The difference may be that while both teams run a lot, Iowa plays some defense and Oklahoma does not. But at least the teams are even in the injury department and there's no edge there.

For Iowa, 7-foot forward Brad Lohaus has a black right eye given to him in practice by teammate Michael Morgan.

"I got in the way of his elbow," Lohaus said. "Other than the color, it doesn't bother me at all."

Meanwhile, 6-10 Sooner center Stacey King has a sore tooth. But the NCAA's drug guidelines are giving King more trouble than the tooth because some of the ingredients in pain pills are against the drug guidelines.

Said Tubbs: "He's taking Tylenol 1 but he can't take Tylenol 3. Maybe Tylenol 1 7/8 would be all right."

Then Tubbs addressed a group of photographers and asked, "How about a shot of his gums?"

Uh, thanks just the same. Anyway, Iowa-Oklahoma looks like a great match-up and now it is clear that it is a game both teams would give their eye tooth for.

The Hawkeyes, meanwhile, are in their post-Raveling period under first-year Coach Tom Davis.

" Dr. Tom Davis," corrected Tubbs.

All right. Dr. Tom Davis is the only coach in the regional with a Ph.D. However, it doesn't take an advanced degree to figure out that the Hawkeyes have one of the deepest teams in the NCAA tournament.

Davis has 10 players who average at least 11 minutes a game and only Roy Marble averages 30 minutes. Evidently, all the Hawkeyes can also rebound. Iowa led the nation in rebounding margin (12.4) and in one of the most impressive statistics of the tournament, not once has Iowa been outrebounded in 33 games.

Hawkeye guard Kevin Gamble knows all about the depth of his team. Or does he? "Some people say we have the deepest team in the country and some people say we don't," Gamble said.

What do you say?

"I don't know what we are," he said.

What the Hawkeyes are is just the type of team that could give UNLV a great deal of trouble with all their rebounding power, which is something the Rebels don't really have. But before Iowa and UNLV can match rebounding strength against shooting strength, they've got to win.

It may very well be that the surprising Cowboys from the Western Athletic Conference are headed for the bunkhouse. Rebel forward Jarvis Basnight said it's almost time to say good night to Wyoming.

What about saying hello to Oklahoma, the only team to beat UNLV this season, if they meet in Sunday's final?

"If they don't get past Iowa, that's their problem," Basnight said.

But first, there is this Wyoming problem to deal with, he said.

"Everybody's talking about Wyoming this and that," he said. "Hey, we're the No. 1 team. They should worry about us. They have two great players and we have 10. So the ratio is in our favor. It's not who we play, but who has to play us."

Once again, the Cowboys chances will be riding on Dembo and 6-11 center Eric Leckner and they both worry UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian a great deal.

"I'm deeply concerned about their center," Tarkanian said. "Physically, we can match up with Dembo, but physically we don't match up with Leckner. We played against one center that was better than Leckner. That was David Robinson at Navy and nobody's better than him."

Tarkanian laughed and said jokingly that the Rebels may even have to change their tactics playing Wyoming.

"They're so big and they're so strong, we'll probably have to slow the game down and play a zone," Tarkanian said. "What do you think about that?"

Think he must have been hanging out with Billy Tubbs.

Notes Iowa is the only school in the West Regional not to announce the results of the drug tests the team took after its first-round game in Tucson. UNLV, Wyoming and Oklahoma all said their player tests were negative. Said Hawkeye Coach Tom Davis: "The university policy is that we're not going to comment on the drug testing in any way." Davis would not elaborate, but when he was asked whether all of his players would be able to play in the Oklahoma game, he said yes. If a player tested positive for drugs, the NCAA guidelines require that player be declared ineligible.

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