Rebels crush ODU to set up Navy showdown

Just 5 1/2 minutes into the first half of the UNLV-Old Dominion basketball game Saturday night, Navy All America center David Robinson glanced at his coach, Pete Herrmann, forced half a smile and raised eyebrows.

Robinson’s expression was two-fold.

1. UNLV already had matters well in hand with a 22-5 lead against Old Dominion in the Holiday Classic tournament.

2. Monday’s showdown between the top-ranked Rebels and No. 12 Navy was about to become a reality.

The stage was set but the Rebels nearly saw the whole blew up in their face.

UNLV managed to do away with the pesky Monarchs, 103-83, in front of a crammed inside the Thomas and Mack Center.

The outcome forces a 9p.m. showdown between the 10-0 Rebels and the 5-1 Midshipmen on Monday for the Holiday Classic crown. The game already is a sellout.

Navy, behind 28 points and 13 rebounds from Robinson, defeated Idaho State, 78-56, in Saturday’s opening contest.

Idaho, 6-4, will battle 3-5 Old Dominion in the consolation game at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

Senior power forward Armon Gilliam led the UNLV attack with a career-high 35 points and 13 rebounds.

Gerald Paddio added 19 points and struggling Freddie Banks scored 10 as the Rebels broke the 100-point barrier for the third time this season.

The Monarchs were paced by Garrick Davis with 23 points.

Using their usual zone press defense the Rebels jumped out to a quick lead and ended up trying their best not to throw it all away.

“We were horrible after the first five minutes,” UNLV head coach Jerry Tarkanian said. “For the first five, six, seven minutes of the game we just played super, but we weren’t the same after that. Our defense was terrific for a while, but we didn’t sustain it. We’re not playing with enough intensity.”

UNLV’s largest lead before intermission was 50-30 with at the 6:47 mark.

But the Monarchs scored 11 of the next 13 points t narrow the deficit to 52-41. The Rebels held a 58-44 halftime lead.

After the shaky start, ODU settled down and began to break UNLV’s trapping press with long passes down-court for easy baskets.

The Rebels did force 13 first-half turnovers, but the Monarchs scored six layups and 13 points by throwing the long ball to solve UNLV’s defensive puzzle.

“Hell, it’s still five-on-five basketball,” Tarkanian said. “We should be able to cover it (the long pass).”

ODU reduced the Rebels’ lead to seven points on two occasions in the second half but never were able to get any closer.

In the opening game, Robinson converted 11 of 15 field goals to lead the Middles to their victory.

The 7-1 center altered several Idaho State attempts all night long as the Bengals wound up shooting just 19.3 percent from the floor in the first half and 26 percent for the game.

It was Navy’s gift game in 19 days thanks to final and a five-day leave.

“My timing was very off,” said Robinson, who is just six points away from passing Vernon Butler and becoming the Naval Academy’ all-time scorer. “I made some dumb passes and had some stupid fouls.”

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