In your face, NCAA. . . .
That’s what the Runnin’ Rebels of Nevada Las Vegas seem to be saying every time they make a court appearance. . . .
The defending national champions have won their first five games by an average of 35.4 points, have scored as many as 131, have given up as few as 35, and are drawing comparisons to every great basketball team with the possible exception of the 1967 Philadelphia 76ers. . . .
What makes their performance even more remarkable, according to a source named Jerry Tarkanian, is that they’re doing it under the cloud of NCAA investigations that now are into their third decade. . . .
“What does Syracuse do after the story breaks there about alleged violations?” Tarkanian said. “They beat Towson State by only five points. If we go a day without controversy, it’s like New Year’s Eve around here. But we just go out and play. Only these kids could do it. They’re incredible.” . . .
“We try not to talk about that NCAA stuff with our kids,” Tarkanian said. “If I’ve spent 10 minutes since Oct. 15 on that subject at our team meetings, it’s been nine minutes too much.” . . .
Saturday afternoon, in the second game of the Duel in the Desert, the Runnin’ Rebels did it their way again, blitzing athletic, but young Florida State, 101-69. . . .
The Seminoles didn’t know what hit them. Stacey Augmon running the court. Larry Johnson banging bodies. Anderson Hunt bombing from three-point land. George Ackles swatting away shots. Greg Anthony orchestrating the show. . . .
Afterward, losing coach Pat Kennedy said, “When I was at Iona in 1984, we played North Carolina with Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins. Las Vegas is better. They’re stronger inside and have better range from the outside.”
Making the Rebels even more formidable under the bucket the rest of the season will be Elmore Spencer, a 7-foot, 265-pound junior who became eligible Saturday and immediately was dubbed “The Big E” by Thomas & Mack Center public address announcer Joe Hawk. . . .
Spencer signed a letter of intent with Georgia in 1987, withdrew because of a manic-depressive condition, re-enrolled the next year, averaged 12 points as a freshman, transferred to Connors State Junior College in Oklahoma, played a season there, and entered UNLV after earning an associate arts degree at Clark County Community College in Las Vegas. . . .
He scored 12 points against Florida State in the second half and will get plenty of playing time, but so will 11 other players. . . .
“Three of the five coaches we’ve beaten this season have thanked me for not pouring it on,” Tarkanian said. . . .
However, the Rebels can be accused of pouring it on before the game. A light and fireworks extravaganza worthy of the nearby Strip precedes the introduction of the home team’s lineup. It can be intimidating. In fact, Kennedy took his Seminoles into the hallway and away from all that jazz Saturday after they were introduced. . . .
As talented as the Rebels are, it’s their work ethic that puts them over the top. The loyalty of Johnson and Augmon astounded NBA scouts when the two forwards who would have been lottery picks decided to return although it appeared that the Rebels might be banned from defending their NCAA championship. . . .
“They work so hard that we’re not going to practice Monday or Tuesday and I’m giving them a chance to go home for the holidays,” Tarkanian said. “I can’t remember ever giving a team two days in a row off during the season.” . . .
The versatile Tarkanian also serves as UNLV assistant athletic director, in charge of community relations. . . .
Georgetown Coach John Thompson says Augmon, who was a member of Thompson’s 1988 U.S. Olympic team, is his favorite college basketball player. . . .
Only in Las Vegas: Los Angeles Dodger announcer Ross Porter emceed halftime ceremonies retiring San Francisco Giant third baseman Matt Williams’ Rebel baseball jersey. . . .
Duel promoter Sonny Vaccaro believes UNLV is the greatest college team of all time. TV commentator Dick Vitale likes the last team that went unbeaten, the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. Your humble columnist is partial to the best of the Bill Walton and Lew Alcindor teams at UCLA. . . .
The Rebels playing in the Big West this season is like the San Francisco 49ers playing in the World League of American Football. . . .
UNLV’s toughest test, perhaps more difficult than any in the NCAA Tournament, during which games are played on neutral courts, could come Feb. 10 at Arkansas. . . .
Among those impressed Saturday was Laker General Manager Jerry West. “It’s fun watching them play,” he said. “People don’t realize that they’re a great defensive team. They’re tremendously well coached. And so unselfish.” . . .
Don Yeager has written an expose of the NCAA entitled “Undue Process.” You could meet the author and purchase autographed copies of the book in conference rooms C and D at Thomas & Mack Center after the Duel in the Desert.