Rebels nip Sooners for trip to New York

UNLV head basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian has been to Madison Square Garden several times. But nearly all the players on this year’s Rebels team have never seen the structure.

Well, they’ll get a close look-see this weekend.

Thanks to its 90-81 victory over Oklahoma Monday night in the Thomas and Mack Center, UNLV advances to the final four of the preseason National Invitation Tournament in New York City.

“I was telling my players at practice about what a thrill it is to play at the Garden, but most of these guys probably don’t know what it is,” Tarkanian said. “They probably thought we were going to play outside somewhere.”

The third-ranked Rebels join Temple Western Kentucky and Memphis State in the semifinals.

UNLV will face Temple at 4 p.m. (PDT) in the first round on Friday, followed by the Western Kentucky –Memphis State contest at 6:15 p.m.

The championship contest will be held Saturday night. There will be a consolation game prior to the final.

What was billed to be an outside contest gradually transformed into an inside game in front of the 14,836 fans on hand Monday night.

UNLV played most of the first half without its main man inside---6-9, 230-poind forward Armon Gilliam---who was slapped with his third foul at the 12:26 mark.

But midway though the second half, Tarkanian called time out and instructed his team to get the ball inside, despite the Sooners’ collapsing 3-2 zone.

With plenty of assists coming in from all angles, Gilliam responded by scoring 16 of his 18 points in the second half.

He received some help underneath from junior center Jarvis Basight, who finished with 15 points and a game-high 14 rebounds.

Guard Freddie Banks led UNLV with 24 points and Gerald Paddio added 12.

Point guard Mark Wade, who played at Oklahoma as a freshman, dished out 14 assists and collected four seals.

Tim McCalister, coming off a 44-point effort against Bringham Young Friday, paced the seventh-ranked Sooners with 32 points (five of six from three-point range). Stacey King added 17 points and 10 rebounds and Darryl Kennedy scored 15.

At practice this weekend, Tarkanian pleaded for his centers to hit the boards hard.

“He’s been stressing (rebounding) big time lately,” Basnight said. “Every now and then I have these lapses. I’m just glad this game’s over with.”

“Jarvis played great tonight,” Tarkanian said.

The Rebels’ biggest lead in the first half came at 17-5 with 13:58 remaining when Gilliam hit a turnaround jumper in the lane.

Even after Gilliam drew his third personal foul, UNLV was able to maintain its lead.

“I can’t say out too long,” Gilliam said. “I might end up losing my (starting) spot.

“It just took me a while to get in the flow. I didn’t want to draw my fourth foul so I started playing a finesse game at first.”

In one stretch, Gilliam scored 11 straight points for the Rebels.

“They are a very good team, but we knew that coming in,” Sooners Coach Billy Tubbs said. “They didn’t do anything to change our minds.”

The see-saw second half saw Oklahoma take a 63-62 lead at the 11:09 mark.

That’s when Tarkanian took a time out and that’s also when Gilliam had his 11-point string.

“We started out playing great,” Tarkanian said of the first eight minutes. “But they went into the 3-2 zone and we started forcing shots. We got a lead and started firing from left field again.

“We’re still not playing smooth, but I keep forgetting this is only Nov. 24. At this time last year I don’t think we had played a game yet (the Rebels beat Reno 89-62 Nov. 22 last season).”

What probably swayed Tarkanian in the direction of going inside more often was the fact UNLV converted just three of 13 point attempts in the first half while Oklahoma was four of six behind McCallister.

The Rebels finished five of 19 from three-point range and shot 45.9 percent from the field for the contest.

UNLV edged the Sooners on the boards, 49-46.

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