Friday, Nov. 28, 1986 | 2 a.m.
NEW YORK---Live by the three-point basket. Die by the three-point basket.
On a schizo Friday night in Madison Square Garden, UNLV lived.
For the third time in three games this season, the Rebels looked confused.
And for the third time in three games, the Rebels still managed to win ---somehow.
Gerald Paddio, who at times this year has resembled a whipped puppy, boldly drilled a game to a 78-76 victory over Temple in the semifinals of the preseason National Invitation Tournament.
The Rebels will face Western Kentucky, a 68-67 winner over Memphis State, in the championship game at 6:15 p.m. (PST) Saturday night.
In every game this season, up-and-down and often hesitant UNLV had to overcome a double-digit deficit to win.
This time around, the Rebels battled back from 12 points down and outlasted well-disciplined Temple to improve their record to 3-0.
Freddie Banks and Paddio supplied healthy dosages of shock therapy to bring UNLV back from the dead.
Trailing by a point with 10 seconds remaining, Rebels head coach Jerry Tarkanian instructed point guard Mark Wade to penetrate the Owl’s defense and dish off to one of three people---Armon Gilliam, Banks or Paddio.
Wade found Gilliam about 10 feet away from the basket. Gilliam faked a shot, was double-teamed and found Paddio facing the basket about 20 feet away.
With Temple’s Mike Vreeswyk belly up in his face, Paddio hit nothing but nylon as the monotone horn sounded inside the half-empty Garden.
“My man Gerald,” Tarkanian said with a smile afterward. “I want you to know I worked with Gerald on that jump shot at the half. I told him, “This is how you do it, Gerald.’ I love a kid who listens.”
When all the mumbling from the 6,739 fans on hand finally subsided, Paddio finished with 23 points, thanks mostly to 7-of-10 shooting from beyond the three-point circle.
Banks was 4 of 8 from three-point land and wound up scoring 22. Gilliam added 18 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
Vressswyk paced the Owls, 2-1 with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Tim Perry added 14 points and 12 rebounds.
“All I was thinking about was getting the ball and trying to score,” said Paddio, a 6-7 transfer from Semnole (Okla.) Junior College.
In the first half, Tarkanian was looking for anyone on his team who could score. He didn’t care who got hot, just as long as it happened.
“Right now, we’re very tentative offensively,” Tarkanian said for the umpteenth time this season. “Defensively, we’re doing a lot of things right. I thought all along we could come back if we kept using man-to-man pressure. They only had two guys bringing the ball up the court and we thought eventually their legs would get tired.”
The Owls, who shot 53.6 with 10:40 remaining in the game, the Rebels scored scored 14 of the next 19 points to narrow the gap to 63-62 after a Banks three-pointer at the 6:28 mark.
“We’ve got two shooters on this team----Freddie and Gerald---and they’re the one who saved us tonight,” Tarkanian said.
The game see-sawed back and forth until the heart-stopping conclusion.
With 10 seconds left, Temple point guard Howard Evans converted a three-point play when he hit a 12-foot jumper inside the lane ad was fouled in the act by Wade.
That gave the Owls a 76-75 lead and set up the game at halftime.
UNLV trailed only 40-33 despite shooting 41.4 percent, despite putting the Owls on the free throw line for 13 attempts (they hit just seven): despite Gilliam missing his first four shots, all within 10 feet of the basket; and despite Banks, the team leading scorer at a 25.5 clip going on, putting the ball up just four times and converting once (a three-pointer).
In short, the Rebels played a lousy first half.
Or, in Tarkanian words, “We were terrible.”
Terrible until the end, when they won somehow.