Saturday, Feb. 24, 1990 | 2 a.m.
UNLV wants to start celebrating right now.
There’s no point worrying about the Big West championship. Don’t start sweating the Final Four. Those are the days that lie ahead. And only they can take care of themselves.
For now, it was a day of senior cakes and home-cooked cheering the UNLV players won’t hear again soon. On Saturday afternoon at the Thomas and Mack Center with 19,099 watching for the last time this year, the fourth ranked Rebels completed a circle.
They squared things with the Louisville Cardinals by pushing and shoving their way to a 91-81 non-conference victory. The Cardinals Denny Cru joined a long list of coaches paying the arena a visit this season that claim the Rebels starting five manages at least six fouls on every single play.
It was that physical. It’s exactly what everyone expected it to be. There was Louisville mountain man Felton Spencer, whose shadow swallowed David Butler and Larry Johnson whole. The 7-0 center knocked those little fellas aside en route to scoring a game high 24 points and ripping down nine rebounds before fouling out with just 2:35 left.
UNLV countered him with the smaller Butler, Johnson and Stacey Augmon in the paint, and Greg Anthony and Anderson Hunt out front. Neither guard had a pretty performance, but the two combined for 33 points and 12 assists while dogging their Louisville counterparts from baseline to baseline and right to their bench during a television timeout.
The Cardinals entered the game shooting 52.6 percent from the field and could only ring up 44 off UNLV. The Rebels got off so quickly Crum wondered if his team realized the game had begun. Only five minutes went by and the Rebels were up 14-0. Even Joe Montana didn’t get it done that quickly in the Super Bowl.
“We came out ready to play,” Hunt said. Although he hit only 6, the sophomore off-guard finished with 17 points. “We knew it was going to be hard. But they embarrassed us
(92-74 last year) at their place, so we had to return the favor.”
UNLV did at least that much, much to the chargrin of Crum. It was UNLV’s 10th straight victory completed, its best home record in a single season. The 17-0 mark runs the overall string to 21. The “house rules” have left every opposing coach shaking his head.
“They don’t need any help here,” Crum said to a crew of Atlantic Coast Conference officials after a questionable call.
“You’ve got a long way to go before you guys even things out.”
After the game, Crum was upset with Spencer’s fifth foul. He said Augmon drove into him and should have been called for the charge.
“But hey, that’s the breaks you get on the road,” Crum said. “They were a very physical team. We expected that. I’m very proud of our team. We played very hard. I didn’t know what to expect playing without (leading scorer Jerome) Harmon. I think we played as well as we can under the circumstances.”
Harmon was left behind for two games because of academic problems. The Cardinals had a hard time adjusting without his play and 14 points off the bench. Guards LaBradford Smith and Keith Williams struggled out front.
Even though Smith finished with 20 points, most came toward the end, long after the outcome had been decided. Anthony wore him like a comfortable jersey. Smith handed over right of Louisville’s 20 turnovers.
Williams protected (three turnovers) and dished the ball (eight assists) better, but scored only four points on 2 of 9 from the field. Antony was named the most valuable player by CBS for coming off the deck early to finish with 16 points, nine assists and three steals.
He had a collision with Cornelius Holden early that resulted in Anthony going to the bench to readjust his face. What he has done while playing with a broken jaw the last two weeks can’t be measured in terms of points and assists.
“Greg playing with a broken jaw makes him the most fearless player in the country,” Tarkanian said. “I think I’m gong to change his name to Fearless Greg. During the first 12 or 14 minutes, our pressure on the ball and denial of the next pass was incredible.
During that stretch in the first half, we played as good a defense as we have ever played. Louisville couldn’t do anything against us. Then all of a sudden, we broke down. I hope it was because of fatigue. I’m not saying that as an excuse but we have absolutely nothing left. We were playing with such courage and heard (despite 10 games in 24 days).”
Johnson played his normal, steady game. He went to the showers with 22 points and 15 rebounds. He also had six steals and dished a pass off to Butler on one picture-perfect fast break that should have been in an NBA highlight film.
“I told you I’ve become Mr. Rebound Man,” Johnson said when hearing he had 15 boards. “Let me tell you fellas, it was very physical in there. We were going at it. Nobody was backing down from nobody. That’s the way we like it.”
Not so much for the 16th ranked Cardinals, who fell to 20-7 on the year, while No. 4 UNLV is 24-4. While most big-time teams like the physical play, they aren’t quite as practiced at it as UNLV. The opponent seems to get caught with the extra shove, or over the back.
Spencer and Tony Kimbro both fouled out of the game. Butler picked up his fourth foul early (12:08 left in the game), but somehow remained on the floor. Holden and Smith both had four as well.
“We had a whole out of fun,” Butler said. He had 14 points and nine rebounds. Augmon rounded out the inside assault with 16 and 10, respectively. Butler spent more time smearing cake in Hunt’s face than answering questions.
“I just want to say one more thing,” Butler added. “I want to thank our fans for making this season special. This year has been tough on everybody, but we stuck together and came through it. Our fans stayed behind us through it all. It made my last game at home worth it.