Friday, Feb. 20, 1987 | 2 a.m.
LONG BEACH, Calif.—If UNLV could ever afford a letdown, this looked like the perfect night and Cal State Long Beach was certainly the perfect opponent.
The 49ers are an unusual lot- an Elvis impersonator who gulps down 32 ounces of Dr. Pepper before each game, a science fiction movie monster, a center who doesn’t seem interested in scoring or rebounding and the cast from The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.
The 49ers have plenty of character. What they needed Thursday night was better basketball players. But the top-ranked Rebels didn’t take it easy, rolling to an 86-66 Pacific Coast Athletic Association win over the 49ers in front of 8,663 fans at the Long Beach Arena.
The win improved UNLV’s overall record to 27-1 and PCAA mark to 15-0. The 49ers, who opened the conference schedule by winning five of six games, fell to 12-15 and 7-8.
“I expected this to be a tough game. I really did,” Tarkanian said. “Our kids just have the ability to get up for every game. I’ve never had a team go on the road and win big like this. I don’t think there’s any team in the country hat plays harder than ours. I doubt it.”
The Rebels put this one away early, using a 20-4 streak in the first half to build a 44-26 halftime advantage. The 49ers couldn’t make a field goal during a stretch of 7:40.
“We did something we’ve been doing all year—we had a period where we just couldn’t score,” Long Beach head coach Ron Palmer said. “We always seem to do that. It’s a combination of poor shot selection and missing easy shots.”
The 49ers made just 32 percent of their shots from the floor. Long Beach’s starting guards, Morlon Wiley and Billy Walker, shot a combined 3 of 16 from the floor. When Palmer went to the bench, he didn’t find any answers for the struggling backcourt.
Tony Ronzone, a transfer from Nevada-Reno, was 2 of 6, missing both three-pointers he tried. John Hoffman, an Elvis Presley fanatic with a hairdo that would make the Kind proud hit just 2 of 7.
The 49ers’ inside game? Don’t ask. Long Beach center DeAnthony Langston used his 6-10 frame to grab one rebound before fouling out. Langston didn’t score a point.
The 49ers’ only productive player was 6-9, 255-pound sophomore John Hatten, who played a monster in Journey to the Center of the Earth, Part II. Hatten finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds.
The Rebels stretched their lead to 32 in the second half, before Tarkanian gave his starters the rest of the night off.
“I thought we played well. I’m happy to get a win here,” Tarkanian said. “When we play hard, we’re a pretty good basketball team.”
What surprised Tarkanian is that the Rebels continue to play against teams like Long Beach.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” he said. “Everyone has letdowns. I’ve never had a team that didn’t. But these guys never do. It’s just incredible how hard they practice and how hard they play.”
The Rebels made believers of the 49ers, who played UNLV on early even terms for 10 minutes.
“At the beginning of the game we played as well as we have all year long,” Palmer said. “But we played that well and were still behind. They’re just so quick. We got the ball inside for what I thought were going to be easy baskets, but someone would come out of nowhere to block our shots.”
Freddie Banks led UNLV with 20 points, hitting four three-pointers. Armon Gilliam added 19 for the Rebels and Gary Graham came off the bench to score 16.
“I thought we played a good, solid ballgame, Hatten said. “But there just isn’t a great way to play Vegas. You can play them for 10 or 20 minutes, but 40 is really pushing it. The just keep coming at you.”
The Rebels broke open a close game with their 20-4 first-half run. Wiley hit a three-pointer with 9:23 to play in the first half, cutting UNLV’s lead to 20-16. But Gilliam, who scored 15 first-half points, hit three straight hoops to push the Rebels’ lead back to 10.
Three three-pointers, two by Banks and one by Gerald Paddio, increased the Rebels’ advantage to 35-19 with 6:12 to play. Gilliam’s dunk at the end of a UNLV fast break gave the Rebels their biggest lead of the first half, 44-20, with 1:25 left.
A three-pointer by Wiley just before the buzzer—the 49ers’ first field goal since the 7:40 mark—made the score 44-26 at halftime.
The Rebels will play at New Mexico State at 2 p.m. Saturday. Long Beach, which is battling to win a PCAA playoff spot, finished the season with three straight road games.