UNLV Finishes With a Flourish : Basketball: Runnin’ Rebels beat Titans, 104-83, to become first team in 12 years to finish regular season unbeaten.
With the ease of a comb running through Jerry Tarkanian’s scalp, Nevada Las Vegas became the first team in 12 years to finish the regular season undefeated after a 104-83 Big West Conference victory over Cal State Fullerton Saturday night.
In front of a swelled Titan Gym crowd resembling church on Christmas--4,032 fans, more than double Fullerton’s average home attendance--UNLV started the second half with an 11-3 run that opened a 20-point lead and cruised to its 27th consecutive victory this season.
Forward Larry Johnson scored 33 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, guard Greg Anthony added 19 points and four assists, guard Anderson Hunt had 15 points and forward Stacey Augmon had 13 points and eight rebounds for the Rebels, who shot 59.5% (44 of 74) from the field.
Eleven of Las Vegas’ baskets came on dunks.
Joe Small scored 27 points and J.D. Green had 21 for Fullerton, which stayed with the Rebels for most of the first half and kept the final score semi-respectable.
Of course, it should be noted that Las Vegas never used its full-court press.
“I don’t think our players have anything to be ashamed of,” Fullerton Coach John Sneed said. “We played a great team tonight. You have to have depth and energy to stay with UNLV. We got fatigued in the second half.”
The loss didn’t damage Fullerton’s conference tournament draw. The Titans (14-13, 7-11) finished in a three-way tie for sixth place with Fresno State and Long Beach, but will gain the sixth seed because of an earlier victory over New Mexico State.
Fullerton plays Pacific at 1 p.m. Friday, and if the Titans win, they’ll play the New Mexico State-Fresno State winner in Saturday’s semifinals. Fullerton has split its games with Pacific and New Mexico State and beat Fresno State twice.
“I don’t mind our draw for the tournament,” Sneed said. “We can compete with Pacific.”
No one has competed with Las Vegas this season. Not since Indiana State and Alcorn State in 1978-79 has a Division I team finished the regular season undefeated.
The preliminaries behind them, the Rebels now will attempt to become the first team since Indiana in 1975-76 to finish as unbeaten national champions.
“I told the guys after the game, ‘Hey, we’ve got this part over, and now we have to move our game up a notch,’ ” said Tarkanian, the Rebels’ coach. “But we’ve never discussed going undefeated. We haven’t talked about it once.”
That the Rebels went undefeated during the regular season is not that much of a shock. The defending national champions were ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls, they were clearly the dominant team in a weak conference, and they faced only three potential nonconference challenges in Michigan State, Arkansas and Louisville.
But what is surprising is how simple it has all seemed. UNLV’s average margin of victory is 29.4 points, a shade under the NCAA record 30.3 set by UCLA in 1972-73. The Rebels whipped then-second-ranked Arkansas, 112-105, in February, and no opponent has been within striking distance in the final minutes.
The Rebels, who average 103 points per game, have trailed for only 38 minutes, 40 seconds of the 1,080 minutes played, or less than 4% of the time. They trailed the longest against Arkansas, for a total of 8:47. They’ve only trailed twice in the second half, against Michigan State (a 95-75 victory) and Arkansas.
They’ve taken Al Davis’ motto a step further: “Just romp, baby.”
“Sure, I’m surprised (at how easy it’s been),” Tarkanian said. “We played Michigan State, Arkansas and Louisville on the road and we had to play at places like Santa Barbara and New Mexico State. That’s not easy. The kids just worked hard and stayed focused for every game.”
For Fullerton, Saturday was another night of fear and losing to Las Vegas. The Rebels, who blocked 11 Titan shots and altered many others in a 98-67 win over Fullerton Jan. 4, intimidated the Titans at times again, blocking 11 shots.
But unlike the first meeting, Fullerton had a perimeter game Saturday. Small got hot in the second half, scoring 20 of his points, and made six of 12 three-pointers, and Green made nine of 13 shots, including two three-pointers.