Pacific calms down as the Rebels coast, 99-72

LONG BEACH, Calif. - Luckily the Pacific Tigers' first appearance on national television started after midnight on the East Coast and ended near the witching hour on the west.

Most of the nation was asleep during the Saturday night Big West Conference tournament semifinal won by the third-ranked UNLV Rebels 99-72 before 10,597 at the Long Beach Arena. The Tigers provided the sleeping pill for those having problems locating dreamland.

They somehow upset UC Santa Barbara Friday night 65-62, but any thought of doing the same to the 28-5 UNLV squad were quickly laid to rest. The victory sets up Sunday's final between UNLV and Cal State Long Beach, which knocked off top seed New Mexico State earlier in the evening 90-85.

The game begins at 3 p.m. and will have no effect on the seeding of the NCAA tournament. That process will occur 30 minutes after the Rebels have begun playing, but if things go as expected, they will be the top seed in the West.

For the 15-14 Pacific Tigers, this was a rare chance to make a lasting impression on future recruits. If Bob Thomason is lucky, nobody saw how badly outclassed his team was on this night.

Three of his big men fouled out by the 10-minute mark of the second half in an attempt to stop Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and David Butler down low and above the rim. It was the 21st win in a row for the Rebels over the Tigers, who last beat UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian somewhere around the turn of the century.

For the second straight night, Augmon had a solid showing in what can only be called a rebirth for the junior. He finished with 16 points and nine rebounds, and set the tone on the fast break that had the Tigers wondering why they'd bothered to beat up the Gauchos the night before.

Johnson added 20 points and six rebounds, while Butler, who didn't have that good of an evening finished with 15 and eight, respectively. Guard Anderson Hunt rounded out the assault with 19 points out front. Greg Anthony, whose wiring on his broken jaw didn't stop him from getting his third technical in a month, finished with 10 assists.

"I thought we played well at the beginning of the game and well at the start of the second half," Tarkanian said. "I was a little upset with them at the half because I thought we were getting beat too much on the dribble. But we took care of that in the second."

"Greg played great in the second half and kept getting the ball to the right guy at the right time. I think now we should be the top seed in the West. Nobody has played as tough a schedule, or had to overcome so much adversity. Our kids played with a lot of guts throughout the season."

UNLV opened a big lead early on and looked bad doing it, then had a much better second half en route to sending the Tigers home to Stockton, Calif., around midnight with a sad version of the Cinderella story. It was rumored their bus turned into a pumpkin on the way back to the hotel.

"This is a great basketball team," Thomason said. "Going in, we just wanted to keep it close, keep it respectable. But their big guys are so tough in the post. They run the floor better than anybody. It's tough to stop them."

The Tigers were led by a variety of guys because so many had an opportunity to play. Chris Cox and Dell Demps finished with 18 and 11 points, respectively, but it was of little consequence. They had about as much effect on the outcome of the game as UNLV's cheerleaders.

Obviously the Rebels were looking forward to a rematch with Santa Barbara after the Gauchos upset them 78-70 nearly two weeks ago. But Johnson and Co. shook off the effects of that early on.

"We just came in and played hard." Johnson said. "The way Stacey is playing is making my job so much easier. They can't fall off me as much. They have to respect Stacey when he's shooting the ball so well."

"I don't know if we'll be the top seed, or not. It's not really for me to say because there are so many great teams in the West. Wherever they send us, we'll be ready."

UNLV shot 57 percent from the floor, while holding Pacific to 44 percent. Lately, the Rebels have been outrebounded by their opponents, but such was not the case Saturday. They outboarded Pacific 48-28.

"I don't think too many people are going to beat them right now," Thomason said. "They are playing as well as anyone in the country. My hat is off to them. They are a great team that could go all the way."

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