Las Vegas Sun

April 20, 2014

Rebels rule NCAA

UNLV No. 1 with beDeviling win

In a year where so much went wrong, UNLV did something so right that no one can dispute the Rebels are truly the National Champions.

The 103-73 NCAA Tournament victory over Duke on Monday night before a sellout crowd of 17,675 in McNichols Arena was the most lopsided final in the 51-year history of the Final Four. An 18-0 run early in the second half signaled the death knell for the Blue Devils, who hadn’t seen a defensive display like this all season.

Led by the NCAA Tournament’s outstanding player Anderson Hunt, who hit 12 of 16 from the field to finish with a game-high 29 points, and Larry Johnson, who added 22, the Rebels raced out to a 75-47 advantage that Duke couldn’t overcome.

The Rebels used a blend of intense man-to-man pressure and the amoeba zone to force 23 turnovers, while limiting Duke’s impressive offensive show to only 43 percent from the field. UNLV converted fast break upon fast break that left Duke gasping for breath in Denver’s rarified mountain air.

The Rebels hit an astonishing 61 percent from the field en route to becoming the first team in tournament history to surpass the century mark. UNLV also broke a 22-year mark held by UCLA for the largest margin of victory. The Bruins beat North Carolina 78-55 in the 1968 final.

“This was obviously a great win for this team, for our community and the city of Las Vegas,” a jubilant Jerry Tarkanian said. “It’s a real credit to these kids, who have gone through so much this year.”

It was the first time in three tries that the UNLV coach has secured a national championship for Las Vegas. The Rebels advanced to the Final Four in both 1977 and 1987. This was also the first time the Rebels had advanced to the championship game.

“This is what it’s all about,” Johnson said. He joined Hunt and Stacey Augmon on the all-tournament team. “It was a great team victory. We had to overcome so much this year. That makes it even sweeter.”

Johnson also led the way on the boards with 11. He outfought Duke’s Christian Laettner and Alaa Abdelnabuy. That powerful pair combined for 29 points and 16 rebounds, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Phil Henderson, who also made the all-tourney team, led the way for the Blue Devils with 21 points. Those three combined for 50 of Duke’s 73 points.

“UNLV played an outstanding ball game,” Tarkanian said. "I’m still proud of our guys. We had a great season.”

It was the eighth time that Duke had just missed winning a national championship. The Blue Devils have advanced to the Final Four three straight years, and four of the last five. It was UNLV’s second trip in four years.

“This was not sweet revenge for me,” Tarkanian said, in reference to the NCAA’s and his battle over the last 13 years. “I’ve never won anything like this. It means so much to me, personally, and for our kids. They played so well. This is the best team we’ve ever had. No question.”

Greg Anthony had a solid game at point. He thoroughly outplayed Duke freshman counterpart Bobby Hurley, who had no points, three assists and five steals, while committing three turnovers.

Augmon rounded out this powerful display with 12 points, four rebounds, seven assists and two steals. His defensive efforts also limited Robert Brickey to four points. The Blue Devils nailed only 1 of 7 three-pointers.

That was not a problem for Hunt. He knocked down 4 of 7 from beyond the three-point stripe. UNLV made 8 of 14 in a game in which the Rebels never trailed.

UNLV played an outstanding first half to set up this win. Anthony and Johnson hit two buckets apiece early, and Hunt nailed down a baseline jumper and a three to give the Rebels a 16-10 advantage that held up throughout the half.

The defensive intensity by Tarkanian’s team was at a higher level than Duke has seen all year. The Blue Devils turned the ball over 14 times in the opening 20 minutes, and trailed by as many as 16 (41-25), before cutting the margin to 12 at the half.

Tarkanian substituted freely and received a lot from Barry Young (five points) and Moses Scurry (a key slam dunk). With the starters resting for a second-half onslaught, Stacey Cvijanovich, Travis Bice, and former starter James Jones got some key minutes.

Anthony was the real star, however, scoring 10 points and thoroughly outplaying Hurley. Hunt drew Hurley defensively. It was perhaps Hurley’s worst game of the year at the worst time.

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