Rebels crush Pacific to finish 16-0 at home

This wasn’t a basketball game, really. It was a chance for six UNLV seniors to take a final curtain call, for 19,628 fans Thursday night at the Thomas and Mack Center to get one last look at the Rebels.

When the spectacle was over—after the fireworks, after the unveiling of the life-size shark, after the seniors received their final standing ovation—the Rebels had an 82-55 Pacific Coast Athletic Association win over Pacific.

The No. 1-ranked Rebels, in winning their 17th PCAA game without a loss, improved their overall record to 29-1. Pacific is 10-6 overall, 6-11 in conference play.

Everyone got into the act for UNLV, but it was the seniors’ night. Armon Gilliam, Freddie Banks, Gary Graham, Mark Wade, Eldridge Hudson and Leon Symanski stood for the final time in the limelight at the Thomas and Mack Center.

The evening began with a pre-game ceremony featuring the seniors and their parents and ended the way most of the games in their careers have—in victory.

“It was a beautiful night, absolutely beautiful,” UNLV head coach Jerry Tarkanian said. “The town showed the kids what it thought of them, and the kids showed the town what they thought of it. It was rewarding to watch the feeling that each of these kids have for this community.”

The Rebels jumped out to a 12-2 lead. It was never close after that, even though UNLV wasn’t in top form.

“I’m glad to get the game over with,” Tarkanian said. “IT wasn’t a very artistic game, but when you go through one of those ceremonies it’s hard to play well.”

Fittingly, it was the seniors who were most responsible for the Rebels’ easy win, their 16th without a loss at home this season.

Graham made the most of his first start, popping in a game-high 20 points. The senior guard hit 8 of 12 shots from the floor, including 4 of 6 three-pointers. Gilliam added 17 points ad eight rebounds. Banks scored 15 points, hitting three three-pointers.

Gilliam’s rebound basket at the 9:07 mark of the first half gave the Rebels a 30-10 lead. The first half ended with UNLV on top, 42-22.

The Rebels stretched their lead to 37 at one point in the second half, then traded baskets with the Tigers during an extended garbage-time period.

“We weren’t sharp,” Tarkanian said. “I hate to see us get to that kind of basketball We weren’t always playing good basketball.”

But some of the sloppy play could be attributed to the many different lineups the Rebels used, Tarkanian said.

Each UNLV player saw at least 10 minutes of action, except center Jarvis Basnight, who sat out this one.

“I wanted to use the seniors and I wanted to pay David Willard and Richard Robinson, because we’ll need them for the NCAA tournament. Jarvis said before the game to just let the seniors play.”

Pacific head coach Tom O’Neill had hoped the Tigers might be able to take advantage of the Rebels’ good spirit. No such luck.

Pacific, which has had trouble shooting the ball all season, hit just 31 percent of its shots from the floor. The Tigers committed 22 turnovers.

O’Neill said all the hoopla surrounding the game might have been a distraction to the Tigers.

“If your old enough to remember Fractured Fairy Tales, that’s kind of what this was about from the beginning,” O’Neill said. “It was kind of a carnival atmosphere.”

Wade, who finished with seven points and seven assists, didn’t think the emotional atmosphere of the evening hurt the Rebels.

“Of course it was emotional, being the final home game of my career,” Wade said. “Sometimes that could be a distraction, but it wasn’t tonight. We weren’t great, but we played decent.”

Decent was more than enough on this night.

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