Sunday, Dec. 19, 1976 | midnight
After his young University of Idaho basketball had just been mauled by UNLV, 135-78, Saturday night, head coach Jim Jarvis said, “I think they’re (the Rebels) the best club we’ve played by far. They’re a good basketball team. They’re so much quicker and they can hurt you inside and outside.
Jarvis’ comments probably carried some weight since Vandals have lost previously this season to the likes of USC, Washington and Arizona, which until Saturday was unbeaten and ranked in the top 10. Asked who he’d pick if UNLV met the Wildcats, the team that knocked the Rebels out of the NCAA playoffs last season Jarvis said, “I’d pick Nevada.”
For the second night in a raw, UNLV season ticket holders, obviously unimpressed by the opposition, stayed away from Las Vegas Convention Center in droves. The 5,000 or so who showed up, however, were once again treated to a dazzling display of the Rebels’ shooting, passing and ball-stealing talents that had the Vandals on their way to their fifth loss in six games by halftime, when the score read 65-37.
This time the onslaught was led by Glen Gondrezick, who scored a game-high 23 points, but as usual, he got lots of help from lots of teammates.
Eddie Owens and Reggie Theus each added 18 pints, Robert Smith popped in 17, Tony Smith had a season-high 15 and Lewis Brown chipped in 14.
UNLV head coach Jerry Tarkanian began clearing his bench with over nine minutes remaining and the reserves upped a 46-point lead to the final 57-point margin, two better than Arizona’s margin over Idaho.
Sub Mike Milke was particularly effective down the stretch with six assists and one steal in only nine minutes, while ex-Gorman High stand-out John Rodriguez hit on all four of his field goal attempts for eight points in just six minutes.
The victory was the sixth in seven outings this season and 44th straight at home for UNLV, which started the weekend ranked 11th in the nation but figures to move up thanks to the rash of upsets Saturday over several top 10 teams.
Saturday night’s score fell four points short of the home court record 139 put up last season against Northern Arizona.
The Rebels get only two days rest before inaugurating the first Rebel Roundup Tournament Tuesday night, along with Bradley, Murray State and Oklahoma.
For the second night in a row Saturday, UNLV put an outmanned opponent away early and breezed the final 28 minutes. Trailing by two at 10-8, the Rebels’ pressure defense began taking effect, and turnover after turnover was cashed by a fast break attack that Idaho couldn’t stay with. The result was two 14-0 runs by UNLV during a 34-6 spurt that put the Rebels comfortably in front by 26 (42-16) with 8:15 still remaining in the first half.
With the defense in full gear, the Rebels forced 20 turnovers in the first half which led to 50 percent shooting. For the game, UNLV had 38 turnovers (it received 34 the night before) and shot 55 percent to Idaho’s 43.
Getting three-on-two and four-on-three situation time and again on the fast break, the Rebels put on a passing show the equal of any pro team. Sophomores Reggie Theus and Toy Smith in particular continued to thrill the crowd with their sleight-of-hand artistry that helped UNLV total 36 assists. Tony Smith and Robert Smith each had eight and Theus five.
Tony Smith also displayed a long range shooting touch the equal of Sam Smith’s, who sat this one out while resting his sore knees. Tony totaled his 15 points in only 18 minutes (he had 10 at the half) and he also came up with four of UNLV’s 13 steals.
“Tony needed this game for his confidence,” Tarkanian said.
Theus, looking more and more like a seasoned pro than second-year player popped in a few long bombs himself from the corners in another fine shooting night besides playing his usual defensive game.
Tark said, ”Reggie played a helluva game, didn’t he? He has so much talent, it’s unbelievable.
Not to be outdone, little Robert Smith pulled the trigger and hit on six of nine fiel goal attempts. He also had two steals.
Brown, showing sparks of brilliance, hit on six of 11 from the field and led the Rebels’ to a 61-42 edge on the boards with a game-high 12 rebounds. He did it all in just 18 minutes. Larry Moffett, the defensive half in UNLV’s platoon play from the center position, was intimidating at times, blocking three shots while clogging up the middle effectively.
Owens got his points in only 25 minutes while hitting eight of 15 and added seven rebounds to his 14 of the night before. Gondo, turning into a potent rebounder since the loss of Jackie Robinson, added 10 boards to his point total and gave UNLV some physical play under the basket. He had 17 of his points at the half and scored his 23 total in 23 minutes.
“I think it was important for us to start running again,” Tarkanian said, obviously please to see his team return to last season’s form. Idaho attempted to stop the Rebels in the first half with a zone defense but it was wiped out by the outside shooting of Gondo, Owens, Theus and Tony Smith.
“It was the first time we’ve really played against a zone,” Tark said. “We have a zone offense but we’d never seen on before. So it was good for us to practice against.”
That’s just what the Rebels made it look like all right, a practice.