Sunday, March 27, 1977 | 2:23 p.m.
ATLANTA- UNLV’s basketball gunslingers went down shooting Saturday afternoon at the Omni.
The poised North Carolina Tar Heels withstood the Runnin’ Rebels run-and-gun attack and left the jam-packed arena with an 84-83 NCAA semifinal game victory.
A sellout crowd of 16,086 and a national television audience saw both UNLV and the University of North Carolina. Charlotte, go down the way they came in, firing. Marquette, in coach Al McGuire’s “Last Hurrah,” nipped the 49ers 51-49 in Saturday’s early game.
The Tar Heels will take their four-corners tactics into Monday night’s championship game here against Marquette and the Rebels and UNCC will play for consolation honors at 2:35 p.m. (PST).
UNLV head coach Jerry Tarkanian and his players didn’t blame the infamous four-corners for losing and, in truth, they couldn’t. The Rebels played against it as well as anyone has—a fact NC head coach Dean Smith admitted—and the Rebels had ample opportunity to win the game down the stretch.
But the Rebels, who led 49-43 in a fast-paced first half, and were ahead by 10 early in the second stanza, scored only 28 points in the final 19 minutes when the Tar Heels controlled the ball and the game.
One could say UNLV lost the game by a nose—a bloody nose. The Rebels blew their 10-point lead in the second half before North Carolina went into its four-corners game but were ahead by five with 17:15 remaining when Larry Moffett took a elbow to the face and suffered a bloody nose.
With Moffett, the team’s defensive strength up the middle, out, the Tar Heels scored nine unanswered points, the tail end of a 14-0 streak, for a 59-55 lead at the 15:27 mark.
Moffett returned to the game but the damage was done.
North Carolina went into a zone defense that completely took away any inside attack Rebels might have had, and on offense the Tar Heels either got wide open layups or free throws off the four-corners.
UNLV fell behind by as much as eight (71-63) and then, sparked by Tony Smith’s outside shooting, came back within two, three times in the final two minutes.
Each time UNLV came within two North Carolina senior guard John Kuester, whose free throw shootings beat Kentucky in the East Regional last year hit both ends of a one-and-one situation. His last two with 12 seconds remaining clinched the game.
Davis, playing with a broken finger, was a perfect 7-7 from the field for 19 points. He scored only four in the second half.
O’Koren also out-rebounded Gondo, 8-5. Gondrezick went in averaging over 11 rebounds. As a tandem, UNLV forwards Eddie Owens and Gondrezick were out-rebounded 13-7 by Davis and O’Korean and the Tar Heels ended up with a 41-29 edge on the boards.
That rebounding was the difference because the Rebels seldom got a second shot. In the first half, UNLV hit 55 percent form the field and rebounding wasn’t a factor. It was in the second half when UNLV hit only 47 percent and North Carolina 70.
“The first half was going our way,” Tarkanian said, “They had 16 turnovers at the half. We were running and shooting (Sam Smith 6-10 from the field, Robert 4-7, Moffett 4-6, Theus 3-6). We should have had a bigger lead. We played well at times.
We didn’t sustain it. Against a team like that you have to do it.” We played a super first half. It should have been a 13, 14-point half. That’s what really hurt.”
Dean Smith agreed with Tarkanian.
“I thought we were in very good shape to play as we did (16 turnovers) and only be six down.”
In the second half, the Tar Heels switched defenses and the result was UNLV was held scoreless for almost five minutes while North Carolina rallied for the lead.
“They changed defenses very well on us,” Tark said. “I think that bothered us. When they went into a 1-3-1 zone and matched up with us, we’d stand around…we were standing and ended up shooting with hands in our faces.”
“We got 10 up and lost all of our momentum. We made substitutions. We had two turnovers in a row. We never could get it going again.”
The zone may have had a lot to do with that. Dean Smith said, “It was our way of controlling the tempo against Nevada-Las Vegas. We played more zone than we normally do. It seemed to slow them down.”
Slowed down, The Rebels failed to cash in time and again in the late stages of the game, despite forcing one turnover after another (NC had 27 altogether).
When the shots weren’t falling for UNLV, other things were happening, like Owens getting called for a charge, Kuester missing the front end of a one-and-one and North Carolina getting the rebound, and then Theus’ charge after Owens’ steal.
Asked later if he thought UNLV could play in North Carolina’s Atlantic Coast Conference, Ford replied, “I think Las Vegas could do pretty good in the NBA.”
What Ford didn’t say was that in the NBA, zones are illegal and there’s a 24-second clock.