Wednesday, Dec. 27, 1989 | 2 a.m.
UNLV's famous pressure defense called in sick Tuesday nigh leaving Jerry Tarkanian scrambling for a last second replacement.
The Rebels' head coach wasn't sure who he could turn to in his hour of need. Greg Anthony had two fouls and Anderson Hunt couldn't stop the drive down low, so he looked to the back pages of his playbook and dusted off the amoeba.
Not only did that matchup zone stop a first-half assault by Cal State Long Beach despite only 20 minutes of rehearsal over the last three weeks, it took the heart right out of the 49ers who never recovered en route to a 78-58 loss before an overflowing Thomas and Mack Center crowd of 18,600.
The Big West contest was billed as a matchup between the league's two top teams. UNLV had shown the nation the meaning of the word defense Saturday against Iowa, but had nothing for the encore performance with the 49ers.
Midway through the first half and holding a 20-18 lead, Tarkanian switched to the amoeba to stop the 49ers' Tyrone Mitchell, who was having his way with the Rebels. Tarkanian planned to use it for only a while, but after grabbing a 39-30 halftime advantage he danced with the same girl for the remainder of the night.
"I can't remember ever using that defense for as long as we did." Tarkanian said.
UNLV is now 2-0 in league and 6-2 on the season. The 49ers fell to 0-1 and 6-2 respectively.
"I thought the game was deceiving," Tarkanian said. "Our man-to-man defense just didn't work at all. Tyrone Mitchell played tremendously for them and beat us both inside and outside. So we went to the amoeba and it worked really well. I'm absolutely amazed how much we ended up using it."
So was Long Beach Coach Joe Harrington, who got his team pumped up for the man and would up facing a simple zone that even the worst shooting team could break.
But there were no shooters to be found in Long Beach on this night. The 49ers made only 28 percent for the game, and only two jumpers in 40 minutes on the floor. In the second half, they managed only six baskets for a total of 20 percent.
It wasn't a night Harrington is likely to ever forget.
"The difference in the ballgame was our lack of transition defense," Harrington said. "When they started getting the ball up and down the court we could not stop them. We also did not shoot very well."
"Larry Johnson took over in the second half. UNLV is a very good team and we new that coming into tonight. We got whipped. It was a very disappointing performance for us but we can't get down about it."
The 49ers were down by 31 (76-45) with four minutes left. Tarkanian slowly emptied his bench to allow his starters to receive their due. Johnson led five Rebels who finished in double figures with 17 points. He also grabbed 14 rebounds.
Lucious Harris led the way with 17 for the 49ers. Mitchell added 15 while Kevin Cutler dropped in 11. Stacey Augmon stayed inside Cutler's jersey most of the night to keep the team's leading scorer in check.
Augmon added 11 points and 10 rebounds as well. David Butler and Greg Anthony rounded out the offensive assault for UNLV with 14 apiece. The Rebels made only 45 percent from the field, but on this slow night, they didn't really need to shoot any better.
"I thought Greg Anthony played well both offensively and defensively," Tarkanian said. "I thought his defense was super. He applied great pressure, got out on the fast break and was a terror out front on defense. He has quick hands."
His feet weren't too quick in the early going against Mitchell. Long Beach came out fired up and stayed even for most of the first half. But when the shots started to come up short just before the half, Long Beach went down with barely a fight.
"It's nice to know we can come out and play badly and still win," Johnson said. "We just couldn't get into it early on. They were getting the inside baskets and we were standing around watching them."
"So we go to the amoeba. We may have practiced it once in the last month, I'm not sure. But Greg really started to deny everything out front, and he found us down low when we had the ball. It's a real confidence booster. We needed something to give us a lift."
Tarkanian turned to Moses Scurry to provide that needed spark and once again the senior forward came through. He only had six points and five rebounds, but his enthusiasm made a big difference.
"Scurry sparked us off the bench," Tarkanian said. "No doubt about it. His effort rubs off on everybody else. He gets so excited that everybody around him starts to play a little harder. We needed that."
UNLV will need a lot of that Saturday against 11th-ranked Arkansas. Against the 49ers, the spark came from an unlikely source. Tarkanian doesn't plan for that to happen against the Hogs. The amoeba wouldn't work against them.
But on Tuesday it looked brand new and it proved to be the winning combination in the most unlikely of circumstances.