Rebels take their show to the big city

The Last time UNLV played in New York City, the Rebels eventually took their act to the Final Four. It’s a little too early to say if coach Jerry Tarkanian's road show is ready for a return engagement, but if Friday night's performance against California is any indication, it's too bad Ethel Merman isn't around to welcome the Rebels off the plane.

Behind the inside play of Larry Johnson and an inspired three-point effort by Travis Bice, the top-ranked Rebels blew by the Bears 101-81 before 11,777 at the Thomas and Mack Center.

UNLV advances to the semifinal round of the preseason NIT event and will play the winner of the St. John's Houston game on Wednesday night. Considering the four teams that will make the trip to New York it is safe to say the Rebels are the class act of the bunch.

"We defended the hell out of the," Tarkanian said. "I don't think they've seen a defense like that in a long time. I thought we played some of the best man defense I've seen in a long time. Our defense was absolutely incredible."

"The big guys did a hell of a job. I thought our guards too kit away from their guards It took us a while to attack the zone. It's good for us to face a zone at this time of the season. I thought Larry was incredible on offense and defense.

Johnson was certainly the difference early for UNLV. He scored 17 points in the first half to lead the Rebels to a 20-point halftime lead (48-28). Try as they might, the Bears couldn’t pack the 2-3 zone in deep enough to slow down Johnson.

He went to the showers with 25 points and 10 rebounds. Through two UNLV wins, Johnson has scored 49 points and grabbed 26 rebounds. Johnson might have been a little tentative on Wednesday against Loyola Marymount, but the preseason butterflies were nowhere to be found against the Bears.

"I was pleased with the way I played tonight," Johnson said. "We were a little flat early, but Stacy (Augmon) and Greg (Anthony) got us up. It was ours for the taking, so we took it.

"That one-handed slam dunk got the crowd going, but anybody could have caught that pass from Travis. He's known for his shooting, but Travis is great on that lob pass."

That may be, but it was Bice's three-pointers that everyone will remember. He strung together four three-pointers in a row to give the Rebels an 84-51 advantage with nine minutes left in the game. The crowd roared its approval as Bice finished with 12 points.

Barry Yong connected on four three-pointers as well to finish with 17. Anderson Hunt added 16 to round out UNLV's attack. Keith Smith led the Bears with 22, while Brian Hendrick and Roy Fisher finished with 14 and 13 respectively.

"UNLV is every bit as good as we thought," California Coach Lou Campanelli said. "The defense posed us problems, but we handled it until Keith Smith picked up his third foul. We had some slippage at that point."

After a relatively slow start, UNLV finally woke up and turned a 16-15 disadvantage into a 44-24 lead over a seven-minute period en route to a 48-28 halftime advantage.

Johnson landed a one-handed dunk of a fast break to get the crowd into it, while Young hit two three-pointers to force the Bears into a transition game they couldn't handle.

Back-to-back 11-0 runs by the Rebels proved to be California's undoing. The Pac-10 school, with point guard Bill Elleby in foul trouble couldn't control the tempo. Johnson scored 17 points in the first half alone.

UNLV will now play the winner of the Saturday night's St. John's-Houston game Wednesday in a semifinal game at Madison Square Garden at 6 p.m.

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