Monday, Jan. 7, 1991 | midnight
It was supposed to be the biggest blowout since Hurricane Hugo ripped the Atlantic Coast shoreline two years ago.
But in reality, No.1 UNLV’s 95-63 victory over San Jose State Monday night was no worse than the Rebels’ nine other victories this season. In fact, it was almost exactly as worse.
UNLV had destroyed its first eight opponents by an average margin of 31.5 points. Monday, they blasted the Spartans by 32—eight less than the pregame spread.
San Jose Coach Stan Morrison knew his Spartans couldn’t cover the Rebels coming in. But he seemed satisfied they were able to cover the number going out.
“A couple guys a row behind us were upset. They said Kevin Logan’s basket (a three-pointer with 31 seconds left) screwed up the spread,” Morrison said.
“Seriously, we played hard. We didn’t play real well but we hustled.”
Morrison hesitated, trying to think of something clever to say during the postgame press conference.
“I think Las Vegas has a chance to get into the (NCAA) Tournament,” he said.
“I don’t know how many guys have sat here before me—what else is there left to say? Somebody ask me a question.”
Somebody did. He wanted to know how overmatched San Jose (2-10) had planned to keep things respectable against the most fearsome team in the nation.
“Our program plan was to board with our post men and put three safeties back on defense,” Morrison said. “That was the first time in my coaching career I ever did that.”
Morrison’s move prevented UNLV from putting on a dunking exhibition and kept crow noise at a minimum. But even he admitted its impact on the Rebels was negligible.
“I don’t think UNLV was frustrated at any time,” he said. “Jerry (Tarkanian) may have been, but it’s difficult for his players to get excited to play us. You’ll notice when it’s time to turn it around, they did.” That was during the final 10 minutes. The Spartans were down by “just” 14 at halftime (42-28) and 62-45 with 11:12 to play before the Rebels methodically completed the knockout.
Still, the Spartans were feisty enough to keep little-used UNLV reserve Bryan Emerzian on the bench until the final minute. And Jerry Lewis, sitting courtside, didn’t leave the building until the clocked showed zeroes.
“I thought we did an admirable job,” said 6-4 San Jose forward Michael St. Julian, whose former Blinn, Texas team once allowed UNLV’s Larry Johnson 51 points in a junior college game.
St. Julian, one of the few Spartans’ only leapers, did slightly better in the rematch. –Johnson scored 27 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in 29 minutes.
“I wasn’t intimidated—this was fun,” said St. Julian, who scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds. “This gave us a chance to see what we had. It gave us a lot of confidence.”
That’s something San Jose was sorely lacking after getting beaten twice by a subpar Nevada Reno team, blown out by likewise suspect California
(93-53) and dropping a 74-71 exhibition game to a bunch of guys known as the Illawara Hawks.
“I have great respect for Stan Morrison,” Tarkanian said after the Rebels’ flew like doves Monday.
“Coming in, you think zone but there were no gimmicks, no zone.” All of the teams play us the same way---they just come after us. Last year, they even pressed us.”
Morrison said the loss helped put the Spartans’ practice sessions in perspective. He said the gold shirts (his starting five) now know what the blue shirts (the second string) has to endure in practice.
“There’s no way our shirts can give us a realistic indication of what to expect,” Morrison said. “But with UNLV, you don’t really know what realistic is. How are we supposed to prepare for a team like that?”
That may be a question that has no answer. And not just the Spartans.