Las Vegas Sun

May 25, 2019

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Rebels Earn Trip To Atlanta

PROVO- Utah- When Jerry Tarkanian signed Larry Moffett to a letter of intent last year, little did he know that at the same time he was buying the UNLV basketball team a ticket to Atlanta.

Riding the defense and rebounding of Moffett, Tarkanian and the Rebels completed their own version of Sherman’s march to the sea Saturday by laying waste to Idaho State University, 107-90, in the championship game of the NCAA Western Regional playoffs before a crowd 19,298 and a television audience.

The victory puts UNLV into the final round of four in the NCAA playoffs in the Omni Atlanta next Saturday (1:15 Las Vegas time) against Eastern Regional winner North Carolina, which held off Kentucky Saturday 79-72.

Not only is it a first for UNLV in years of basketball, but it will be the first time in 11 years the west is not being represented by UCLA. Idaho State upset the Bruins two nights before, 76-75.

For on half, the Bengals looked to be on their way to a second major upset in three days, despite Moffett virtually taking Idaho States seven footer Steve Hayes out of the game. The Bengals led 52-51 at intermission with Hayes, averaging 20.8 points, having only six.

Motivated by Tarkanian’s tirade at half-time (“I really raised heck at half-time. I was as hard as I’ve been at half-time. I spent two-thirds of the time ripping them”), the Rebels came out in the second half and gave the nation a display of the run and gun offense and full court pressure defense that has made them the highest scoring team in NCAA history the past two years.

With Moffett continuing his dominance over Hayes and getting fine relief from Lewis Brown, Eddie Owens, Sam Smith, and Tony Smith found the range and in the first 12:35 of the second half turned a close game into a rout. The Rebels scored 41 points in that span and the Bengals 21, taking advantage of a quickly tiring ISU team that just couldn’t keep up with Tarkanian’s quickly rotating eight players.

With 6:04 remaining, UNLV had its biggest lead, 92-73, and the 4,000 or so Rebel fans who made the trip started to chant, “We’re number one, we’re number one.”

With Michingan, UCLA and Kentucky all fallen along the wayside, there were few who could disagree.

The Rebels take a 28-2 record into the final round, including a 11- game win streak. Dean Smith’s Tar Heels, champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference, are 27-4.

“I told them I was going to Atlanta,” Tarkanian said of his half-time speech to his players, referring to the coaches convention that will be taking place there,” and that it would be really nice if they went with me.”

Asked if winning the regional was his biggest coaching thrill, Tark said, “Every time you win a big one it’s a thrill. This is the first time I’m getting out of the Western Regionals. This is the third time I’ve been here. Twice I lost to the Bruins (while at Long Beach State).

“This is something you always strive for, the final four.”

While Owens (24), Sam Smith (16), Tony Smith (18), and Reggie Theus (16 and 6 assists) provided most of the offense, it was Moffett, the junior transfer from Compton Junior College, who turned the game around while scoring only eight points.

The 6-9 Moffett clung to Hayes like a dirty shirt the first half while outrebounding him, 10-9, and scoring the same number of points- six. Two came on probably the game’s most spectacular play, a flying follow shot where he came roaring down the key, grabbed the ball with both hands and stuffed it through.

Tarkanian was worried about Hayes because he’s such a deadly shooter. But Moffett wouldn’t let Hayes get the bail often enough to do any damage. Hayes attempted only 10 field goals in 32 minutes. He made seven but three were tip-ins. He finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds.

Moffett picked up his third and fourth personal fourths within the first 56 seconds of the second half, but finished with a game high 16 rebounds (UNLV outrebounded ISU by seven) and blocked three shots in 28 minutes and was selected player of the game by NBC.

In the two-game tournament, Moffett grabbed 33 rebounds and blocked seven shots. He was not named to the all-tournament team voted on by the attending media. Owens and Robert Smith, whose clutch free throws down the stretch won last Thursday’s semi-final game over Utah, were co-MVPs of the tourney. The all-tourney squad was rounded out by Idaho State’s Ed Thompson, UCLA’s Marques Johnson and the Utes Jeff Jonas.

“I thought Moffett’s play defensively was just perfect in the first half,” Tarkanian said. “He denied the ball to the postman.”

Moffett, however, was about all the Rebels had in the first half. The team shot only 43 percent with Owens (4-10), Sudden Same (3 for 10) and Glend Gondrezick (2 for 6), the team’s leading scorers, UNLV forced only eight turnovers and four players had three fouls each.

Idaho State, meanwhile, with Thompson scoring 17 of his game high 27 points, shot 51 percent and hit 17 of 21 free throws. The score was tied 14 times with the Bengals having the biggest lead at five.

It was totally different story in the second half. The Rebels shot 56 percent to Idaho State’s 42 percent, and stayed out of foul trouble while forcing 13 turnovers. Owens was 6 for 9 from the field and Sudden Sam 3 for 6, all three coming on his long range cannon shot.

Tony Smith came up with his second big game in a row off the bench, he made 5 of 6 from the field in the second half. In 19 minutes Tony scored 18 points, hitting 7 of 10, making all four free throw attempts, and added four assists and one steal.

“I thought in the second half our defense got us going,” Tark said. “We got some turnovers and steals, got down court quick and shot well. For about 12 minutes we really shot well, ran well, pressed well and played at our pace.

“We were really tired. Our guys were dying up here because of the altitude,” Tarkanian said. “They only way to play this way was to keep rotating guys.”

Idaho State coach Jim Killingsworth didn’t second guess himself for playing man to man defense and not using the zone that had beaten Long Beach State and UCLA in previous playoff games. He felt the difference in the second half as conditioning.

“Las Vegas has an outstanding ball club,” Killignsworth, an old friend of Tarkanian’s said.” They have sped and quickness. They ran down our big guys in the second half. The thing that probably hurt us more than anything else was in the first half on defense we had all five people downcourt. In the second half we just got down too slowly, we didn’t have the support we had defensively in the first half.

“they got us one on one and we can’t cover one on one. Our biggest breakdown was because we got tired. It’s hard to control the tempo against UNLV, they put on so much pressure.

“You don’t break down against a good ballclub and come out a winner.”

Killingsworth felt one of the game’s turning points was early in the second half when Owens stole the ball and raced in all alone for a slam dunk. Idaho State had just pulled within four 59-55.

The Bengals came within four one more time after that but the Rebels then scored six points in a row on long jumpers by Robert Smith, Owens and Tony Smith for a 67-57 lead, capping a 20-6 blitz over the first 7:16 of the second half.

The Bengals wouldn’t quit, though, and were still within eight with 10:50 remaining (75-67) when UNLV finally took command with a 7-0 spurt including a jumper by Robert, a slam dunk by Theus after he forced a turnover, and a short bank by Owens continued to pour it on until UNLV had its 19-point lead which came on Tony’s steal and layup.

UNLV took its biggest lead of the game 101-80 and with 3:22 remaining Moffett was finally called for his fifth foul.

Leaving the court, he got a rousing ovation from the fans and a surprising bear hug on the sidelines form Big Lou. After two unsuccessful tries, Big Lou and the rest of the Rebels had finally found their ticket to the finals.

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