Thursday, Jan. 3, 1991 | midnight
We know James Madison Coach Left Driesell is a very charitable fellow. But yo, Lefty Christmas was last week.
Driesell decided Wednesday to go where few coaches have dared ventured before. He had his JMU team play UNLV’s All-American forward straight up and Johnson’s eyes were so bright from what he saw out on the court, they could have lit up half of Boulder City.
In just 28 minutes, Johnson scored 21 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and wreaked the sort of havoc associated with a hurricane as the Rebels laid to waste another feeble foe. This time the count was 89-65.
Understand this about Johnson. On a team of unselfish players, he is the most unselfish of all. Just think what he would do if he decided it wasn’t in his best interests to share the wealth.
But by giving it up once in a while, all he is doing is enhancing his image among the pro scouts for being a team player. Golden State General Manager Don Nelson is through looking at Johnson. He has seen enough. All he has to do now is figure out a way to get the No.1 pick in the NBA draft come June.
Come to think of it, Driesell has seen enough of Johnson to last him a lifetime. Same for Stacey Augmon, George Ackles and the rest of the Rebels.
“They can play in the NBA right now,” Driesell said of top-ranked UNLV, which ran its record to 7-0 before 17,473 onlookers at the Thomas and Mack center. “They’re tough. They hurt you in every way imaginable.”
And the guy who hurts the most is Johnson.
“The thing that impresses me the most about Larry Johnson is that he plays within his limitations,” Driesell said.
“He’s got a good shot from the outside but he knows his strength is inside and that’s where they like to go to him.”
The Rebels played to Johnson’s strength throughout the first half, Driesell tried ot let Barry Brown, who stands 6-5, take Johnson solo defensively. Brown must have thought he was on a suicide mission. He blocked one of Johnson’s early attempts but that was the extent of his success against the 6-7 Rebel forward.
Johnson schooled Brown unmercifully, taking him down low and putting him in no-man’s land with two quick personals Instead of a towel and water bottle, the JMU manager should have handed Brown a kamikaze headband and a cup of sake.
By the time Johnson was done with Brown and the Dukes in the first half, the Rebels were up 42-26 with Johnson having acquired 15 of his team-high 21 points.
Dreisell figured that plan wasn’t going to work, so he had Brown front Johnson in the second half in an attempt to deny him the ball.
No matter. Augmon led the way with 13 second-half points as UNLV did its usual opening number on the opposition. This time, it was 17-3 in the first five minutes of the half and it allowed Jerry Tarkanian the opportunity to rest Johnson and the other starters.
“It was a fun game,” Johnson said. “I’m not used to getting one-on-one coverage so I tried to take advantage of it.”
Anderson Hunt said that’s the idea.
“We always want to be aware of Larry,” he said. “Most teams double-team Larry. But they played him straight up, so when we see someone guarding him one-on-one, especially when it’s a smaller guy, we’re going to get the ball to him.”
Tarkanian was glad to see the team recognize the situation and take advantage of it.
“They’re so unselfish,” he said. “They never try to force it but they saw Larry was being played straight up and they got to him down low. It was great to see.”
For Johnson, it was an ideal situation. A smaller team, trying to play him physical, gets hammered in the end.
“I’ve been working on some one-on-one moves in practice, but it’s mostly for zones,” he said. “If I can catch a team playing man, I’ll leave that outside stuff to the guards and go down low.”
Johnson thought the team’s intensity in Tuesday’s practice carried over to Wednesday’s game.
“We played pretty hard tonight defensively,” he said. “It was a good game for us because we ran well on offense and we played good defense.”
So goo that James Madison shot just 38 percent from the field for the game. Surprisingly though, the Dukes turned it over just 13 times compared to 18 for UNLV. It was the first time all year the Rebels had committed more miscues than the oppostion. But it still didn’t matter.
“They couldn’t get a good shot against us,” Tarkanian said of JMU, which fell to 5-5.
“Our defense by out first team was s good as it has been. If you were making a training film, you could have used the first 25 minutes of tonight’s game.”
And the 28 minutes of Larry Johnson as the sequel.
JC transfer Melvn Love confirmed Wednesday night he will be eligible today and is expected to practice with the team this afternoon at the Thomas and Mack. Love, a 6-9 forward, played at Salt Lake Community College prior to enrolling at UNLV. …For only the second time this year, UNLV found itself over the new 10-foul limit which gives the opposition two free throws for every foul committed after the 10th….Steve Hood, JMU All-America Candidate, led all scorers with 32 points and played a game-high 38 minutes. He was out there, till the bitter end. … Ackles, who have been nailed with numerous goal-tending calls this season had the tables turned on him when JMU’s Clayton Ritter goal-tended Ackles’ shot. “I was afraid the refs weren’t going to call it,” Ackles said with a grin. “Now I know how the other half lives.” Ackles had 11 points and 13 rebounds.