Tuesday, Jan. 23, 1990 | 5:40 p.m.
LONG BEACH, Calif - UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian didn't want reporters too close to his locker room door.
Despite knocking off Cal State Long Beach 86-77 Monday evening before 7,438 at Long Beach Arena, Tarkanian wasn't impressed with the way his fifth-ranked team played down the stretch.
He said as much in loud tones, but far from the straining ears of reporters. His five-minute speech left some of the players speechless in the locker room. But to the 13-3 Rebels, the bottom line was that they won.
"Maybe we were a little too easy on them in the final minutes," Larry Johnson said. "Coach said we didn't go after any loose balls and were outrebounded. This is what I say: We would rather win than go after loose balls."
Johnson played 39 hard minutes to lead all scorers with 30 points and all rebounders with 12. He was 8 of 13 from the field and 14 of 15 from the charity stripe. To say he was the difference in the game would be way too obvious.
"We had nobody who could control him," Long Beach Coach Joe Harrington said. "He is a great player. I thought we played hard and we wanted it. But they just hit the right shots at the right time."
Don't tell that to Tarkanian. He pointed to three missed one-and-one opportunities in the final two minutes that could have iced the game sooner. He also mentioned the staggering difference in rebounding (Long Beach won that battle 47-34), and the 26 offensive boards that the 49ers managed to grab.
"Rebounding was the only thing keeping them in the game," Tarkanian said. "They kicked out butts on the board. Our guys played hard, but they wanted it more. They shot better than they have all year. They made most of their free throws in the second half.
"I feel good about getting the win here. This is always a tough place to play. What bothered me was that we were outhustled all over the court. They got way too many second opportunities. That's a sign a team wants to win more when that happens."
It didn't happen enough thanks to Johnson and Anderson Hunt. The sophomore off-guard made 9 of 12 from the field to finish with 22 points. UNLV hit 53 percent from the field while holding Long Beach to 38 percent.
The Rebels won this game by connecting on 83 percent (25 of 30) of their free throws. That was something that cost them ore often than not last year. Hunt wasn't a part of that parade, but he did score eight points in the final five minutes to help secure the victory.
"Coach was mad at us for not hustling," Hunt said. "But we won. That's the only thing I really worry about. I wasn't really in a groove, but they left me open a lot so I took it. That's what I'm supposed to do."
UNLV played half the game without David Butler, who was in foul trouble most of the night. He picked up his fifth with 1:48 left. The 6-10 senior went to the bench with only six points and three rebounds.
Not having him in the middle forced the Rebels to play a lot of zone in the second half. While Long Beach skied over Tarkanian's amoeba in the first half, in the final 20 minutes the 49ers just weren't able to find the range.
Kenny Jarvis led Long Beach with 18 points, while Lucious Harris was busy adding 16. But point guard Tyron Mitchell was put in a bottle that he just couldn't break out of, thanks to Stacey Augmon. Mitchell went 2 of 7 and handed out only five assists. He finished with seven points and was unable to run the 49ers' offense effectively.
As a result, UNLV was able to control the tempo and look for Johnson in the blocks. He took everyone to school. No matter who came his way, Johnson responded to the challenge.
"I felt like I contributed tonight with David having to sit on the bench," Johnson said. "That's my job. That's what I'm supposed to do. They hammered me, but I made my free throws. It's good to get out of here with a win."
UNLV raised its conference record to 7-1 and regained first place by a half-game over idle New Mexico State. The 49ers fell to 11-5 overall and 4-4 in the conference race.
Big man Mike Masucci rounded out the Long Beach attack with 13 points. Greg Anthony did the same for UNLV with 15 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists.