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October 21, 2014

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Same old tune for the Rebels

FSU just like all the others

Pardon the redundancy, but haven’t you heard this tune before?

No.1-ranked UNLV, playing great pressure defense, built a commanding halftime lead and blew the game wide open early in the second half. Afterward, coach Jerry Tarkanian was absolutely amazed by his team’s performance.

Someone might want to think about changing the record but the way things are looking, it may not be until mid-February that anyone will have the ability to do so.

Nolan Richardson are you listening? A nation turns its boring eye to you. Ooh, ooh, ooh.

You could have taken the same facts, the same quotes from any of UNLV’s four previous wins and plugged them into the story surrounding Saturday’s 101-69 demolition of Florida State in the second annual Duel in the Desert at the Thomas and Mack Center and no one would have known the difference.

In fact, it was a tempting move. But there were some new things to talk about. Things like George Ackles effectively operating within a zone defense. Things like Elmore Spencer’s debut. Things like Stacey Augmon’s impressive double-double and his best outing of the season.

We begin with the 7-foot Spencer, who seems to be embarrassed by all the attention he has received in such a short period of time and would just as soon have the media leave him alone, a la Augmon.

Spencer played 15 minutes, scored 12 points, all in the second half and was 5 of 8 from the floor, including several dunks.

“It really felt great,” he said of his debut, witnessed by 17,133 Mack Maniacs and a national television audience. “I was a little overanxious and it caused a couple of turnovers. But I’m hoping to get better. These guys are helping me a lot.”

Spencer, who had just two days of preparation for his first game, got better the longer he remained on the court. He came out and blocked Michael Polite’s shot just seconds after entering the game in the first half. As the game went on, and with his teammates helping him and feeding down low, Spencer had a strong second half.

Tarkanian was pleased with what he saw of the newest and biggest Rebel.

“He looked better in practice than he did here, but that’s to be expected,” he said. “You give him a couple of weeks and he’ll help us. I think in a month, he’ll really help us.”

While the Rebels wait for Spencer to get comfortable, Ackles is seeking to entrench his starter’s status.

Despite having to contend with Florida State’s 2-3 zone, the 6-9 Ackles was able to operate more effectively than against the likes of a Nevada-Reno, which packed in the zone so tight, he suffocated.

“They were playing more to Larry’s side,” Ackles said of the Seminoles’ plan to shut down Larry Johnson. “They seemed to concentrate more on Larry, so that opened things up for me.”

“It definitely was softer than what we’ve been seeing and that was the key.”

Johnson, who is averaging better than 23 points a game, was limited to just 13 by Florida State. Ackles, meanwhile, scored 11 points, grabbed five rebounds and added four blocked shots.

“I thought it was pretty good,” he said of his performance. “But I’ve got to come out and do this every game. Big Elmore’s gonna push me. I know that it’s definitely more competitive now.”

Is Spencer’s presence an incentive?

“Definitely,” Ackles said. “I don’t want to sit. I’ve worked too hard just to get to this point.”

Hard work is what propels Augmon and, as is usually the case, it paid off Saturday. He had six boards at each end, picked up four steals and won a battle of athleticism and attrition with the Seminoles, who had some good athletes themselves but couldn’t keep pace with the veteran Augmon.

“I think Stacey’s been playing well since last year’s Big West tournament and hasn’t let up since,” Tarkanian said of Augmon. “He’s really playing well right now.”

How good? Check out this strange sequence. Anderson Hunt, who scored a game-high 21 points, missed a layup early in the second half. Augmon, alertly following up the play, snagged the offensive rebound but lost his balance and managed to avoid both Hunt and FSU’s Derrick Myers, who was on the deck with him.

Augmon jumped over the two fallen players, missed the shot, grabbed the rebound after jumping over the two again, and leaped over them a third time as he made the putback attempt.

The leapfrog layup was part of the explosive 21-4 run that came during the first six minutes of the second half and ran UNLV’s 46-30 halftime lead to 67-34. Once again the Rebels played the role of burying their opponent without muss or fuss.

“This is one of the best college teams I’ve ever seen,” Florida State Coach Pat Kennedy said. “I don’t think I’ve seen a tam ay stronger under the basket. They’re like those great Louisville teams, only better.”

The presence of Spence only enhances the Rebels position.

“He gives the team a whole new dimension,” Kennedy said. “They might be one of the best teams of all time.”

Like the storylines in each of UNLV’s five games, the postmortem is also beginning to sound awfully familiar with coaches and players comparing the Rebels to the great UCLA teams of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton or the great Indiana team of 1976 or the great North Carolina team of Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins in ’82.

If the routs continue, it may be April before someone can change that broken record. And that’s a big if at this point.

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