Order on the court: Rebels win 95-87

More off-court problems brewing while UNLV manhandles Arizona.

UNLV and controversy are rapidly becoming old companions.

What’s happened both on and off the court this season to UNLV would barely match the Old Testament in length, if not in interest. So it came as no surprise to anyone who has followed the Rebels through this most bizarre of seasons that more problems were waiting just off the court.

The Los Angeles Times reported in its Sunday editions that former player Anthony Jones drove a car owned by a UNLV booser during the 1985-86 season. And if that wasn’t enough, Arizona’s Lute Olson and off-guard Anderson Hunt were involved in an incident in the second half that has more sides to it than a stop sign.

Once again, lost inside this deluge of soap-opera material, was another excellent performance by the seventh-ranked Rebels, who knocked No. 20 Arizona 95-87 on Sunday, before an overflow crowd of 19,034 in the Thomas and Mack Center.

Long after the game was done, UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian wanted to know what the national media was writing about. Was it Larry Johnson’s game-high 26 points? Was it David Butler’s 19 in among the Arizona trees? Surely, Greg Anthony received a mention for his 16 points and seven assists, while playing 36 minutes with a broke jaw.

How about Stacey Augmon, who came to life long enough to score 16 points and rip down 12 rebounds when Butler and Johnson found themselves in foul trouble. But that was not the case. The long-standing feud between Olson and Tarkanian grew a little hotter when the Arizona coach accused Hunt of “saying stuff to our assistants.” And that turned out to be the major story.

Last year Hunt dashed Arizona’s dreams of a trip to the Final Four with a shot at the buzzer that gave the Rebels a stunning win. But according to Olson, Hunt did more talking off the floor than on it this time around.

“I am not accustomed to having opposing players saying stuff to our assistants,” Olson said. “And that’s all I’m going to say about that.”

Olson hopes to prevent any more bad blood flowing between Las Vegas and Tucson by having the Rebels right where he wants them---off his schedule. He said as much after the game. The only time UNLV will meet Arizona in the future is in the NCAA playoffs.

“I don’t care about that,” Tarkanian said. “What, we can’t have a schedule without him? I thought this was a tremendous college game. Both teams played with a great deal of heart. When we were running, we played beautifully.

“We stressed at half to run more. Our big men didn’t match them in size, but one of our strengths is how well Augmon, Butler and Johnson run the court. They (Arizona) were so big and strong. We have a hard time guarding (Sean) Rooks.”

Rooks, Brian Williams, Ed Stokes and Jud Buechler compose a front line that is rapidly becoming one of the better forward walls in the country. Only Buechler is a senior with the rest coming back for more next season.

Rooks led Arizona in scoring with 23. He hit 15 of 17 free throws coming off the bench. Buechler added 21 points and 11 rebounds for the Wildcats. Matt Meuhlbach added 14 from his guard spot, while Stokes went to the showers with 10.

“It was a good, intense, tough basketball game,” Olson said. “We believed in order for us to have a shot we had to stop their break opportunities. In the first half, they beat our people down the floor, but Johnson and Butler are going to do that to a lot of people.

“Our turnover situation hurt us, but once we get a healthy Matt Othick back, that will help. I’m not unhappy with our performance. We competed hard. This game was a good measuring stick for us.”

It was a good stick for UNLV as well. The Rebels connected on 56 percent from the field to become the first team to break 50 percent against the Wildcats this season. Coming into the game, they were second in the nation in field-goal defense (38.5)

But they didn’t have any answers for Johnson. Butler and Augmon down low. They combined to hit 22 of 33 of their field goals, despite Butler and Johnson fouling out of the game. Buechler and Stokes did the same for Arizona.

That’s a lot lost on Olson, who told the combination Big West-Pac 10 officiating crew during the game to “Go ahead and have your day. I’ll remember you when you guys try to referee Pac-10 games.” UNLV was 26 of 35 at the stripe. By contrast, Arizona was 22 of 27 in what was a very physical game.

“Those Arizona guys were some big men,” Johnson aid. “Rooks played a great game for them. Brian didn’t play well, but I know he could. We just kept trying to get the ball down low. We didn’t look for any one man. Whoever received the ball in the best position, took it.”

Williams and Othick returned home to Las Vegas but it wasn’t a great homecoming for the two former Bishop Gorman players. Othick, plagued by two bad ankles had seven points and seven turnovers, while handing out five assists. Williams finished with two points and seven boards.

“I know those two can play better,” Tarkanian said. “Matt showed a lot of courage playing on those bad ankles. I thought Greg did too, when he took a charge with a broken jaw. It was an absolutely incredible game for us.”

UNLV raised its overall record to 22-4 with the win its eighth straight victory. The Rebels’ also snapped the Wildcats five-game winning streak.

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