Wednesday, Dec. 19, 1990 | midnight
UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian was so worried about Princeton’s slow-down offense in the days leading up to Wednesday’s home opener with the Tigers, that he may have overlooked his own defense.
But it was the Rebels’ defense that proved to be the difference in UNLV’s 69-35 victory over the previously unbeaten Tigers. The Rebels forced 22 Princeton turnovers, held the Tigers to 13-of-37 shooting (35 percent), and left Princeton head coach Pete Carril shaking his head in amazement after the game.
“I never thought a zone defense would cause this team so much trouble,” Carril said after his Tigers fell to 7-1. “But (UNLV’) did. They were very aggressive; they forced a lot of turnover for us.
“They played us hard, they played over aggressively. They were more physical than our guys are used to. They pushed my center around quite a bit. In some places, they would have been called fouls.”
Tigers center Kit Mueller agreed with his coach.
“Their defense is phenomenal,” Mueller said. “They forced so many turnovers…they just play incredible defense-they’re so quick and overpowering. You try to get the back door and there’s always somebody there.”
Carril was asked to compare UNLV with some other ranked teams he has seen play this season, but the Tigers’ coach said there was no comparison.
“I saw Indiana and Kentucky---two high powered teams in the United States—and they’re nowhere near what I saw from (UNLV) tonight, he said. “And I don’t think they played their best. They could probably have moved it up another notch if they wanted to.”
Princeton could never get much going on offense against the top-ranked Rebels, save for a run midway though the first half that saw the Tigers outscore their hosts 17-6 during a span of 6:05.
After UNLV scored the first 13 points of the game, Princeton went on a rush while the Rebels’ lead with two points, 19-17, with 7:25 remaining. UNLV took over at that point, however, and outscored the Tigers 14-3 to take a 33-20 advantage into the intermission.
Although his team was trailing by 13, Carril said he thought it could make a run at the Rebels. But the Tigers’ shooting in the second half was as cold as the winds that gusted around the Thomas and Mack.
“Even when they were ahead by 13, I thought we had a chance to come back in the game,” Carril said. “But we played so poorly in the second half that we couldn’t get back in the game.”
Princeton’s offense, which by its nature produces few points, was held to 15 second-half points—a fact that had Carril concerned.
“I wasn’t dissatisfied with our defense---our defense has carried us this season,” Carril said. “But our offense has been spotty from October 20th until tonight, and that’s what killed us tonight.”
Mueller, who came into the game averaging a team-high of 13 points a game, was held to just six points by the Rebels. And he made sure to give credit where credit was due.
“Our offense really couldn’t run with that kind of defense,” Mueller said. “We were just prepared for that, we just didn’t execute well, we didn’t shoot well—a lot of things went wrong for us tonight.”
And despite trailing by 20 to 25 points midway through the second half, Carril never took his team out of its patented deliberate offense. The reason?
“Because we have nothing else,” he said, then added with a grin, “If all you have is oatmeal, that’s all you eat.”
And that was about all Pete Carril had to smile about Wednesday night.