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Runnin’ Rebels Play, Talk a Loser’s Game

They crapped out. After all those successful passes, all those long shots that came in, all those full houses they held in the palms of their hands, the fast and loose basketball shooters from Nevada Las Vegas finally went bust. They tried to roll a Final Four the hard way, but a bunch of rubes from Indiana cleaned them out.

Somewhere in the Palace tonight, Caesar is crying.

For 38 games, the Runnin’, Gunnin’ Rebels had been the wildest bunch in the West, blowing away opponents in a style that was purely their own. But when they ran into Bob Knight’s ballclub in the NCAA tournament semifinals Saturday before a college-record crowd of 64,959 at the Superdome, well, they didn’t seem to have the Vegas idea of what they were doing.

And afterward, as it really sank in that they were not going to be playing Syracuse for the national championship, these 97-93 losers to the Hoosiers sat back like gamblers with empty pockets and reached for every alibi in the book.

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Junior center Jarvis Basnight accused the officials of making “ticky-tack” foul calls against the Rebels all day long, and said of the Hoosiers: “They had the help of the referee and Coach Knight. They had seven people to our five.”

He went on to say: “I don’t think anyone wants us to win the championship. We knew the only way we were going to win is if we blew them (the Hoosiers) out.” Asked why, Basnight said: “Because they think we’re a bunch of bad guys . . . we got that reputation of being the outlaws. Everyone wanted a team like Indiana or North Carolina to be in the championship, so I guess they got their wish.

“I’m pulling for Syracuse.”

Eldridge Hudson, a UNLV senior, also thought the Indiana coach had intimidated the officials.

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“Every two seconds, he was crying to the refs about something,” said the player the Rebels call El Hud. “You don’t see Coach Tark (Jerry Tarkanian) doing that stuff. That’s why I wish we’d have whomped ‘em.”

Gary Graham, a senior guard, said, “Bobby Knight uses intimidation for motivation” and described the Indiana players as looking “like cadets. He’s got ‘em in a trance or something.” Of the game, Graham said: “It was the street guys against the suburban guys. Everybody who walks the street or sits in the gutter was with us. Everybody who rides around in limousines was with them.”

Graham wasn’t finished yet. Tarkanian could have better prepared the Rebels for the game, he said.

“The thing I don’t understand is why we didn’t practice hard the day before the game. It was just basically shooting around. The guys were basically bored. Mentally, the guys just weren’t there today. We weren’t ready to play. There was something wrong. You don’t want to go out and feel that way. You’re in the Final Four and you want to be ready. I was more excited about playing (at the West Regional) in Seattle. There’s 60,000 people here and we can’t get up for the game? Something’s wrong.”

Losers hurt when they go bust. Anybody who has been to Vegas knows that. Sometimes they say things they don’t mean. They blame themselves. They blame something else. They need reasons . Explanations. Anything that can get them through the night.

The trouble with college basketball is that you can’t quit while you’re ahead. It didn’t mean a thing to Indiana that UNLV had a record of 37-1. The past was irrelevant. House percentages didn’t matter. Even the best could be bettered.

If anyone wanted to quit while they were ahead, it probably was the Hoosiers. They led the Rebels all day Saturday but kept watching the clock like a henpecked husband who was supposed to be home by 9. The longer they played, the more dangerous Tark’s sharks became. To Indiana, the 40-minute game must have felt like forever.

If only the hustlers from Vegas could have said: “It’s early. Where the hell you runnin’?” If they could have kept playing, maybe they could have found another hot hand. Somebody to help out Fast Freddie Banks and Armon (Hammer) Gilliam, who scored an astonishing 70 of UNLV’s 93 points.

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It might have been Graham, who didn’t make a basket all day. Or Basnight or Hudson, who got off only four shots apiece. Or Gerald (Furniture) Paddio, who didn’t do much else except stand around and shoot. Paddio took 15 shots and hit two of them. Had the game gone on a little longer, maybe he would have gotten hot. Either that, or he would have piled up enough bricks to build a condominium.

The Vegas guys had been so good for so long. It was one helluva team, one helluva season. They left opponents breathless. But it turned out they could dish it and not take it. When Indiana came out runnin’ with the Rebels, step for step, it left the losers upset, literally and figuratively, in the locker room. They owned the refs. We weren’t prepared. Nobody liked us.

It certainly wasn’t Indiana’s kind of game. Oh, how the world of basketball has come full circle for Knight and the Hoosiers. When they won the national championship as recently as 1981, they did so by a score of 63-50. On Saturday, Indiana scored more than 50 points in the first half. It’s a new day, a new game. What was old and familiar was one of the semifinal games being a whole lot better than the other. Compared to the main-room floor show of Vegas vs. Indiana, the opener between Syracuse and Providence was a lounge act. The second game was Sinatra. The first game was Robert Goulet.

In the past, though, lounge acts like Louisville, Villanova and North Carolina State have made the headliners look sick on the night of the big show. For that reason alone, Syracuse should not be counted out Monday. Indiana might be . . . what? Tired? Not prepared?

Knight’s cadets?

Well, it’s something the Vegas crowd can make book on, at least. The gamblers can go ahead and take bets on the game now, since wagering on Vegas in Vegas had been declared illegal.

Some of them figured the Rebels to come home big winners.

Sorry.

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No dice.


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