Sunday, Feb. 4, 1990 | 7:06 p.m.
Jerry Tarkanian waited until he absolutely had to before beating Jim Valvano at his own game.
With his man defense crumbling at the foundation and the North Carolina State Wolfpack driving to the basket like automobiles cruising on the Autobahn, the UNLV coach downshifted into the amoeba zone defense with 7:30 left in Saturday's game and N.C. State up by one.
Valvano's eyes resembled saucers as he gazed upon his own gimmick defense, a 1-3 with a chaser, being used by UNLV. Imagine his surprise when it resulted in the 12th-ranked Rebels holding off the Wolfpack 88-82 Saturday before 18,295 at the Thomas and Mack Center.
"Tark you dirty dog," Valvano said long after the camera lights had been turned off. "I kept telling our guys, 'they're going to go to the amoeba, be ready for it.' We practice against that type of defense all the time.
"When you did it, I was all ready to split it out front then fire a pass to the perimeter for the wide open three. Instead, we go down and turn the ball over three times in a row, and that's the game."
Tarkanian just smiled that pumpkin smile of his.
"I had to," Tarkanian replied. "You guys were going by my players like we were out there directing traffic."
The UNLV coach did his best imitation of a traffic cop, his arms waving this way and that as the imaginary cars went by.
"Come on, go this way," Tarkanian said. "Our guys looked like a bunch of MPs at the gate. We kept telling your guys which way to go."
The guard tandem of Rodney Monroe and Chris Corchiani did its best to penetrate the famed pressure defense of UNLV. Tarkanian switched Greg Anthony and Anderson Hunt back and forth on defense in an attempt to keep the twosome guessing.
Monroe wasn't bothered early. He finished with a game-high 31 points by hitting 12 of 20 from the field. But once the amoeba went into place, with Hunt providing a chaser on Monroe, the shooting guard had only six points the rest of the way.
"Chris didn't do a good enough job getting the ball in the right guy's hands," Valvano said. "We started taking a bunch of wild shots, and they go up by nine (78-69), but when we started fouling and Anthony missed the two one-and-ones, we got right back in it.
"Chris just missed a three-pointer that would have tied it at 80 to 80. Then we get that intentional foul and now Anthony sinks two with not nearly the pressure he had with the one-and-ones. That intentional foul tuned the game to UNLV's favor. I'm not blaming the referee for calling it, I blame the rule. It's just too difficult to determine what is intentional and what isn't."
That call, with 37 seconds left, set the stage for Anthony to sink four free throws in a row and put the game out of reach at 84-77. Monroe banked in a three-pointer, but it wasn't enough because UNLV was able to run the clock down.
Anthony did an excellent job on Corchiani in the waning moments of the game. Although the stat crew credited him with only one steal, Anthony forced three turnovers in the final five minutes.
"I had at least six steals," Anthony said, then smiled. He added 15 points and handed out seven assists. Cochrane scored just eight points on a 4-for-12 performance but dished off an astounding 14 assists.
The Wolfpack (15-6) led for most of the game on a variety of offensive sets that caused the Rebels (16-4) severe problems on defense. Kansas was very effective against UNLV's defense by setting the back-door screen. The Wolfpack did the same by setting up in front of the foul line, spreading the defense, then driving to the basket.
"You don't battle pressure defense," Valvano said. "You don't beat Vegas in Vegas by battling them, you take what they give you. You look for the back door, or for a shot off a screen on the perimeter.
"But then Chris gets away from the game plan just before the half. He's so competitive. He tries to beat Anthony off the dribble and he turns it over. Instead of being up at the half, we're down one."
It was a back-and-forth affair, with the Wolfpack leading most of the first half and part of the second. During a seven-minute stretch in the second half, the Rebels managed only a single lay-up by Anthony, but hit 11 out of 13 at the charity stripe.
Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon provided the offense with 24 and 16 points, respectively. David Butler rounded out the attack with 15. Johnson also pulled down 16 rebounds and was perfect from the free-throw line, making 12.
"I had a tough time getting into the game early," Butler said. When they pulled us out, I kept thinking I had some help behind me. I never got any, and I gave up some easy baskets.
"Their big fellas were pretty good. That (Tom) Gugliotta has a nice outside touch. He hit a big three down the stretch, so you have to go out and guard him away from the basket. That hurt my rebounding."
Johnson was named the MVP by NBC, and had perhaps one of the greatest dunk shots in the history of Las Vegas. He snagged a pass by Hunt and ripped it through on the fast break to bring the house down. He remained in the training room with a slightly sprained ankle and a bruised wrist after the game.
"I'm all right," Johnson said. "I'm ready to go. Nobody needs to worry about me."