Monday, March 23, 1987 | 11:52 a.m.
Quick! Call your travel agent. Those reservations for New Orleans you just canceled? Book that trip to Bourbon Street.
Iowa had pretty much taken care of any thoughts UNLV had of making a trip to the Bayou. Wasn’t that Al Hirt blowing taps in the background for the Rebels?
The Hawkeyes led No.1-ranked UNLV by 17 points with 16:29 to play Sunday in the West Regional championship game at the Kingdome. But the Rebels, who have a way of looking disaster in the fane and laughing, had one more comeback story to tell. UNLV outscored the Hawkeyes 24-2 in an eight-minute span, then held on for a heart-thumping 84-81 win before 22,914 onlookers.
The victory sends UNLV (37-1) to New Orleans for the Final Four next weekend. The Rebels will play Indiana at noon Saturday, following the first semifinal game, which matches Syracuse and Providence. The national championship game is 5 p.m. Monday.
The Rebels have dug themselves a hole before, but it’s a lot easier to climb out against Cal-State Fullerton and New Mexico State than Iowa, isn’t it?
“One thing about our team,” UNLV Eldridge Hudson proclaimed, “we played harder when we’re behind. We never give up. We’ve just got a lot of heart.”
Iowa led by as many as 19 points in the first half, before settling for a 58-42 halftime lead.
“The first half was my fault,” UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian said. “I had the team all screwed up. We were trying to switch on certain screens, top keep (Armen) Gilliam inside and our little guys outside. We played very poorly on defense. Secondly, we just didn’t shoot the ball well. Those were shots we had been making all year. Our guys were getting a little frustrated.”
UNLV shot just 38-percent in the first half. The Rebels were just 4-of-17 from three-point range. Iowa, meanwhile, hit 72-percent of its shots.
“In the second half, we just played them straight up and fought through the screens,” Tarkanian said. “We went back to the way the Rebels have been playing all year.”
The teams traded baskets early in the first half, before the Rebels pressure defense and outside shooting took effect.
The Rebels hit six three-pointers during their 24-2 run, including four from Gerald Paddio, who couldn’t have picked a better time to snap out of a very long shooting slump. The Rebels’ defensive pressure was also doing their part.
“Defense starts on the ball,” UNLV guard Gary Graham said. “If we get on the ball hard, it makes it difficult for them to get in their passing game. They start going one on one. That’s what we wanted.”
B.J. Armstrong, Iowa’s talented sophomore guard, felt the Rebels’ pressure in the second half.
“It seemed they played a little harder,” he said, “but we didn’t do the things we did in the first half. Consequently, we lost the game.”
Paddio’s three-pointer gave the Rebels a 68-66 lead at the 10:11 mark. The Rebels led by eight, 78-70, with 5:42 remaining when Gilliam hit two free throws.
Gilliam, who was selected the most outstanding player of the regional, led the Rebels with 27 points and 10 rebounds.
The Hawkeyes, who finished the season 30-5, closed within four points with 2:07 to play.
With 1:03 to go, UNLV’s Freddie Banks —who hit three second-half three-pointers — messed the front end of a one-and-one free throw opportunity. Iowa’s Kevin Gamble drilled a three-pointer to make it 82-81 with 35 seconds to play.
Iowa then forced a UNLV turnover. The Rebels couldn’t get the ball to halfcourt in 10 seconds. With 14 seconds to play, Gamble’s alley-oop pass to Brad Lohaus bounced off the side of the backboard and out of bounds.
“I was wide open,” Lohaus said. “I don’t know exactly what happened. I never had a chance to catch the ball.”
Graham was fouled with 10 seconds to play and hit two free throws for an 84-81 UNLV edge. The Hawkeyes had one more chance, but Gamble’s three-point attempt was off target.
Paddio scored 20 points for the Rebels, Banks added 17 and Graham chipped in with 10. Gamble and Armstrong led Iowa with 18 each.
Any thoughts about New Orleans yet?
“I just hope we are a team of destiny,” Tarkanian said.
The Rebels looked like one on Sunday.