Rebels bomb on Broadway

NEW YORK – UNLV’s Broadway debut was closed at the end of the first act.

Playing a team tat was hitting all the high notes, the top-ranked Rebels forgot most of their lines Wednesday night in the preseason NIT before 10.461 fans at Madison Square Garden.

Kansas made them pay for every mistake en route to a 91-77 victory that sends the Jayhawks into the Friday final with St. John’s. UNLV will meet DePaul for the third time in 12 months to see who places third. But considering the rave reviews coming into the game, it is unlikely UNLV will be happy as the warm-up act.

“First off, I want to say that Kansas played an outstanding game,” UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian said. “They are further along than any team that I’ve seen at such an early stage in the season.”

“They look like they are in March form. They are a great team. I didn’t know this until (ESPN commentator) Dick Vitale told me, but they have three players who have won NCAA championships (Kevin Pritchard, Rick Calloway and Jeff Gueldner). That’s a tough act for anyone to follow.”

UNLV certainly didn’t have anyone rise to the occasion on a night where it needed it the most. After the Rebels too a 36-28 lead on a jumper by Stacey Augmon with 6:25 left in the half, Kansas Coach Roy Williams called timeout and proceeded to read is Jayhawks the riot act.

“I chewed some butt over there on the sidelines,” Williams said. “We weren’t executing well at all and it showed. I thought we turned it around at that point. We have players with savvy and who feel real comfortable out there.”

“They know how to execute and know how to win. We figured we might as well spoil UNLV’s party, just like we did at LSU. We had a cause, and that is to show we are a good team.”

So good that the Jayhawks were able to turn that eight-point deficit into a four-point halftime lead (42-38). The offensive cuts to the basket and the back-door screens employed by Kansas were too much for the Rebels’ man defense.

Larry Johnson and James Jones got into early foul trouble in the second half. Johnson went out with four with UNLV trailing 55-49, and Jones soon followed with it 61-51. Without these post players, the taller and wider Jayhawks blew the No. 1 team right off the Garden floor.

“I thought we had some great defensive moments out there,” Tarkanian said. “But when we had a letdown, Kansa made us pay for it. That’s what a great team does to you. You can’t let down for one second, or it’s a lay up.”

What UNLV hoped would be a dunkarama, quickly turned into layup after lay up for Kansas. That Jayhawks continued to widen the gap, and at one time led by 20 points (83-63 with 3:50 remaining) thanks to the offensive execution of Pritchard out front and Calloway, Mark Randall, Pekka Markkanen and Mike Maddox down low.

Maddox led six players who finished in double figures with 17 points. Randall was right behind him with 16. Markkanen with 14, Calloway with 13, Pritchard with 12 and Gueldner with 10. UNLV’s Anderson Hunt led all scorers with 21, Augmon added 17 and Johnson finished with 13.

It certainly wasn’t a great New York debut for Johnson, who only hit 5 of 11 from the field. Without any real help down low, the Jayhawks were able to smother him each time he touched the ball.

“They really dove at Larry just like we knew they would,” Tarkanian said. “We tried to kick the ball back, and couldn’t hit the key outside shot when we needed it. We missed a lot of easy layups. We just couldn’t get a shot to go down.”

The Rebels also didn’t rebound that well, either. Kansas rarely gave UNLV a second shot, thanks to Randall and Maddox, who each finished with seven boards. Augmon and Johnson grabbed nine each, but they averaged 37 minutes on the floor, while the Kansas duo averaged only 25.

UNLV hit 45 percent of its shots from the field, but only 26 percent from three-point land. Kansas connected on 61 percent of its shots overall and an astounding 63 percent from beyond the three-point stripe.

As a result the Rebels will play DePaul, which got beat 53-52 on a last second shot by Boo Harvey of St. John’s. The Blue Demons lost twice to the Rebels last year, but may catch their Nevada counterparts a little flat.

“We just couldn’t hit anything from the outside when we need to,” Hunt said. HE only made 2 of 10 three-pointers. “They have great offensive execution, and we had some serious inside breakdowns on defense. We’ll be back. Don’t count us out after only one loss.”

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