Saturday, Dec. 6, 1986 | 5:58 p.m.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - There is not much else UNLV can do to prove it is a legitimate choice as the nation's top-ranked college basketball team.
On Friday night the second-ranked Rebels won in an arena where no opponent has won for nearly three years.
Gerald Paddio scored 26 points to help lead UNLV to an 80-77 victory over Memphis State.
The outcome snapped the Tigers' 39-game winning streak in the Mid-South Coliseum. The last time they lost there was in February of 1984.
UNLV, now 5-0, is a strong candidate to take over the No. 1 ranking when the new polls are released Monday. Other possibilities include Indiana (which plays Kentucky Saturday), Purdue, Iowa and Kansas. Top-ranked North Carolina was upset by UCLA last Monday night.
Four of the Rebels' victories have come against ranked teams.
"We broke their (winning) string. Is that incredible?" UNLV head coach Jerry Tarkanian said as he proceeded to walk right past his own team's locker room immediately after the game. "Oh my, oh my."
Should his squad be ranked on top?
"What the hell," Tarkanian said. "We beat a helluva good team tonight. We've beat five good teams. I don't think anybody in the country has beat the kind of teams we've beat so far."
Once again the Rebels had to come from behind for the victory as they have done in every game this season.
UNLV overcame a 42-33 halftime deficit (the largest of the game) and took an eight-point lead midway through the second half and never trailed the rest of the way.
Junior center Jarvis Basnight, who struggled the entire game until the final 2 and half minutes, buried two free-throws at the :09 mark to give UNLV its 80-77 advantage.
After calling timeout at :05 Memphis State passed the ball in to senior point guard John Wilfong, whose 22-foot shot with two seconds remaining rattled in and out of the basket.
Rebels point guard Mark Wade batted the ball high in the air off the rebound as the final buzzer sounded.
"We got exactly what we were looking for," Tigers head coach Larry Finch said of the final sequence. "The ball just didn't go in. That's the way it goes sometimes. They've got a great ballclub but I thought we played pretty great too."
Paddio, the 6-7 transfer from Seminole (Okla.) Junior College, turned in by far his most solid all-around effort of the young season, shooting 8 of 11 from the field and pulling down a team-high eight rebounds.
All but one of Paddio's shots came from behind the three-point circle (19 feet, 9 inches from the basket), where he sizzled at 7 for 10.
"That's Gerald's best shot," Tarkanian said of the three-pointer, where Paddio has converted 19 of 36 (52.8 percent) this year. "His worst shot is a lay-up."
"It was just there tonight," Paddio said of his smooth jumper. "Coach told me that anytime I'm open to take the shot. It just worked out well tonight."
Paddio's gem offset an off-night for the Rebels' leading scorer, Freddie Banks, who hit just 1 of 8 shots from the field and finished with six points - 20 below his season average.
"Freddie's gonna have some good games and he's gonna have some bad games," Paddio said. "I'm just glad I was able to be there tonight when he had a bad one, just like he'll be there when I do."
"Every time I'd go baseline they'd give me a little bump," Banks said. "They were trying to intimidate me. I think they did a pretty good job. We won. That's all that matters."
Wade finished with a career-high 10 points (4 from 4 from the floor and 3 for 3 from the line) and also dished out 11 assists.
Even more impressively, UNLV hung on even without the services of 6-9 power forward Armon Gilliam in the closing minutes.
Gilliam, who finished with 21 points and six rebounds in 32 minutes, twisted his right knee on a drive toward the basket with 8 and half minutes left in the game.
He re-entered once, but the injury was too painful and he returned to the bench with 3 minutes remaining.
Gilliam said the injury was nothing serious. "I'll be all right,” he said afterward.
"I don't know how we keep doing it," Tarkanian said of his fifth straight heart-stopping victory. "What really impressed me was we did it without Armon. He's one-third of our punch. We're hurtin' when he's not in there, but Jarvis did a helluva job for us."
Junior Vincent Askew paced the Tigers with 23 points (on 10-of-16 shooting), eight rebounds and four assists. Guard Dwight Boyd added 17 points.
"I think Askew is the best player we've seen this year," Tarkanian said.
The Rebels were outrebounded 44-33 but shot 51.5 percent from the field in the second half to quickly erase Memphis State's halftime lead.