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April 26, 2015

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

ray brewer:

Trying to figure out where the UNLV win against North Carolina ranks all-time


Sam Morris

UNLV’s Oscar Bellfield, left, and Mike Moser are mobbed by fans after defeating the University of North Carolina during the Las Vegas Invitational championship game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011, at the Orleans Arena. The Rebels upset the No. 1-ranked Tar Heels 90-80.

UNLV shocks No. 1 North Carolina

KSNV coverage of UNLV basketball team's 90-80 victory against top-ranked North Carolina, Nov. 26, 2011.

UNLV scores big win against North Carolina

UNLV forward Carlos Lopez celebrates the Rebels' upset of UNC with a court full of fans at the Las Vegas Invitational championship game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011, at the Orleans Arena. UNLV beat the No. 1-ranked Tar Heels 90-80. Launch slideshow »

Reader poll

Where do you rank UNLV's win against UNC?

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One of my biggest pet peeves with sports fans is how we tend to live in the moment. Trust me, I’m not pointing any fingers because I’m guilty as charged, too.

We get so excited at the outcome of a game that we immediately call it the best ever for our beloved team, or irrationally rank it as one of the organization’s all-time top performances.

Sound familiar, Rebel fans?

About 20 minutes after the UNLV basketball team upset No. 1 North Carolina on Saturday at the Orleans Arena, I was asked if the win was one of the program’s top five victories of all-time. Really?

Although the 90-80 win was impressive and something first-year coach Dave Rice can build on, let’s not go overboard with its significance in the history books.

Several are expecting Rice to return the program to its glory years under Jerry Tarkanian and look at the North Carolina win as a step in the right direction. I can’t blame you. Storming the court at the Orleans Arena must have been fun.

But let’s put it in its place.

Everyone agrees beating North Carolina doesn’t top the 1990 national championship game victory against Duke, which is hands down the top moment in program history. It’s also the top moment in Las Vegas sports history, and for several longtime locals, the best day of their lives.

Without putting much thought into it or searching the media guide, I can easily think of five other games that are surely more significant. Let’s start with the 1987 Elite Eight win against Iowa, when the Rebels overcame a double-digit second-half deficit to advance to their second Final Four.

There is also destroying David Robinson’s Navy squad, also in 1987, winning at Arkansas in 1991, beating Memphis State at the buzzer in the mid-1980s and a slew of tournament wins. For instance, everyone overlooks beating Georgia Tech in the national semifinals in 1990 to advance to the title game.

The UNLV program is one with several marquee wins and memorable performances. Beating North Carolina definitely adds to it, but like Rice said after the game, there is still plenty of basketball left. After watching his team shine Saturday night, I can pretty confidently say this win won’t stand alone as a signature moment in Rice’s tenure.

I’m not trying to downplay the significance. It’s a great step in the right direction of returning to the top of the college basketball world.

It’s something locals have patiently waited for since 1992, when the Tarkanian Era needed. Southern Nevadans have become so desperate that they rank each big moment as the most significant, whether it's winning the WAC tournament in 1998 to return to the NCAAs, the epic battles with BYU in the conference tournament finals, Oscar Bellfield’s game-winner at Louisville or tonight’s dethroning of the top-ranked team.

So, now that you’ve had a night to sleep on it, where do you rank the victory? Top 10? Top 15?

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at

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  1. I agree. It's great we beat a top ranked team, but we should expect these kinds of victories, especially at this point in the season. It's only November. Significant for coach Rice, whose half time adjustments resulted in a decisive 14-0 run to start the second. Significant for our seniors, who just played outstanding. All the players can tell their grandkids how we beat the Tar Heels. All that is great, but there is a lot of important work left to do.
    In the meantime, let's become Tar Heel fans (sort of) and hope they dominate the ACC but concentrate on our business- getting a great seed in March and advancing deep.
    because now the bar has been set, and it's pretty high. And that is good and how it should be

  2. Great win. Probably the best win UNLV's had in the last 20 years maybe. But agree, not the biggest of all time. Let's just hope UNLV doesn't peak with this game this year. They've had big non conference victories in the last few years against ranked teams and have come out flat after that. And lets not forget the game against UC Santa Barbara who beat UNLV last year and has beaten UNLV the last three times they've met. UNLV better not have a let down game after this. They need to ride this wave throughout the rest of the non conference schedule. They have a chance to do something special this year with the departure of BYU from the MWC. If they can get some more wins against Wisconsin, Ill., and Cal UNLV will be sitting pretty going into conference play. New Mexico looks like they were a little over-hyped in the preseason but San Diego St is playing well. MWC looking solid right now with UNLV's win and SDS win against Arizona. Go Rebs!

  3. I agree not the best top 5, but you have to put some variables in place too.

    1. We were unranked, albeit we did get some votes prior to this.
    2. We have a new coach.
    3. This was at Orleans arena where UNLV has struggled mightily in the past with shooting (I suffered through that K-state game)
    4. UNC was undefeated up to now, ranked #1 getting all but 3 top votes in the Media polls, and all but 1 vote in the coaches poll.

  4. In my opinion top 5 wins of all-time are

    1. Duke 1990 national championship game
    2. USF 1977 NCAA playoffs
    3. Arizona 1989 NCAA playoffs
    4. Iowa 1987 NCAA regional finals
    5. Temple win 1988- temple 3rd in country- unlv lost best players to graduation year before

  5. I think the significance of this win is what they do with it. UNLV has been relegated to Mid Major by most, in a Mid Major conference. Few UNLV fans believed we could win this game. Back in the day, UNLV fans believed no team came to Vegas and left with a win. If we take this win and make it a 1st or 2nd seed in the tourney and prob at least an Elite 8 showing, it tells people "no, we are not Mid Major, not an occasional upset of Louisville or a sub par AZ, were one of the top 5 winningest programs in the NCAAs and we demand respect. And then followed up with high recruits and consistently sweet 16 or better. It will be the return to the Tark era as DR has promised. And I think most people will look to this win as the turning point and therefore probably top 5 IMO.

  6. @toby--
    very well put. i'm very happy with this win, but i'll know we're all the way back when other teams are afraid to come here again and the T&M becomes an impossible place for a visiting team to get a win, like it used to be. that said, i feel better about our chances of returning to that stature than i have since tark left. as much as kruger deserves a hand for getting us steadied and winning consistently, it was never quite right with him. this town wants a particular type of team, and that is what we're getting back to. i was a theus guy, but i definitely give rice credit; he got great assistants and has done all the right things. runnin' rebel fever, baby.

  7. Let's not forget that previous coach Lon Krueger put a lot of this team in place. It was a great win - now the Rebels need to prove it wasn't a fluke and that the "Runnin Rebels" are truly back.
    I certainly hope so - I've followed them since they were Nevada Southern in the early 1960's!

  8. You are successfully provocative, Ray. But you're also crazy. The win is more than "a step in the right direction."

    A new coach's unranked team putting up 90 points in a victory on a neutral floor against the NBA-talent-stacked, 2-to-1 favorite to win the national championship? Thinking that the win might fall in the top five is not "irrational." -- especially with last night's triumph coming after a sad couple of decades for the once great program.

    What's irrational is commenters suggesting that we should expect such victories. I'm as big a Rebel fan as the next guy, but I certainly didn't EXPECT a win.