LSU winds up in front seat of 107-105 roller coaster ride

BATON ROUGE, La. - The dramatics of this stage play weren't limited to one scene or a certain star.

From the second the ball was tossed up until Anderson Hunt hit the last bucket of the contest, the leading players and the supporting cast all had their moments on the stage.

Louisiana State's Chris Jackson tried to steal the show early on, while Shaquille O'Neal and Maurice Williamson were around for the grand finale as LSU knocked off fifth-ranked UNLV 107-105 Sunday afternoon before 14,072 in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Those close to the Tigers' program claimed this was their best performance of the season. Jackson had 35 points, Williamson came home with 26 and O'Neal finished with 17 and 14 rebounds to barely offset a group of UNLV players who were always just off center stage.

Hunt knocked down 31 points, Larry Johnson managed 27 and David Butler finished with 22 as the Rebels fell to 14-4. LSU also has a 14-4 mark and should hold on to its No. 16 ranking after losing two in a row earlier this week.

"Talk about turning on the 'on' switch," LSU Coach Dale Brown said. "This was probably the hardest played game of the season for us. I think both teams played lights-out basketball. The Rebels played very, very hard. It reminded me of last year's game except it was better played.

"We couldn't contain Larry Johnson. What can you do against a guy so quick and big? I thought UNLV, despite all of the distractions, was ready to play. UNLV is a great team. They were not bothered by us or the crowd."

It was the second straight loss for UNLV at Pistol Pete's place. The Rebels were knocked off by one point last year on a last second shot by Ricky Blanton. But while that game had the one big emotional moment, this contest was filled with numerous highs for both teams.

The Rebels broke out to a 27-13 lead against a sketchy man defense by the Tigers. They switched into a 2-3 zone to try to control Johnson and remained in it the rest of the way. UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian decided to substitute at the 12-minute mark in order to give his guys some rest.

That move backfired. Greg Anthony was having his way with Jackson until Tarkanian decided to give him a rest. Johnson and Butler also grabbed a breather, but barely sat down before Jackson and Co. began to put on a 45-22 rally that had LSU up 58-49 at the half.

"Our lead disappeared so quickly, I couldn't believe it. Jackson just went crazy against Stacey (Cvijanovich). By the time I got Greg back in there, Jackson had found his rhythm. I don't think he missed a shot in the final 10 minutes of the half."

Jackson finished with 26 points at the intermission by picking up a screen out front and shooting three-pointers all over it like he was only two feet from the rim. Anthony was picked off time after time. The Rebels were unable to switch in time and Jackson made them pay for it.

But in the second half, Tarkanian went to the amoeba-and-one with Anthony staying with Jackson and the other four guys playing a zone. The defense badly confused LSU during the opening minutes of the second half. By the time Brown called time out to make some adjustments UNLV was back within three with 18:41 left in the game.

From that point on, the game was a series of offensive runs that had the crowd going up and down like a nightmarish roller coaster ride. The Rebels had a 76-68 advantage by attacking the weak sections of the LSU zone.

Butler hit a series of baseline jumpers, while Hunt knocked down a pair of threes. But it wasn't enough. The Tigers came back thanks to role players Wayne Sims, Randy Devall and Vernel Singleton.

Jackson then tied it up (79-79) with a three from the corner and Williamson popped in back-to-back threes to give LSU an 85-79 advantage it would never relinquish. UNLV pressed its way to within two (101-99), but clutch free throws down the stretch by Jackson, Devall and Williamson kept the Rebels from getting any closer.

"We watched about five game films," Tarkanian said, "and the only guy we were worried about on the perimeter was Jackson. Williamson's shots looked like bricks. Then he comes out and hits four three-pointers against us. We always bring the best out in everybody."

LSU hit a solid 53 percent from the field and 10 of 20 three-pointers. The Rebels made 45 percent of their shots and 14 of 33 three-pointers. Hunt led the way for UNLV with 9 of 14 from beyond the three-point stripe.

"I thought we played a good game today," Hunt said. "LSU played real well and they got the ball to bounce their way. I thought the team with the last spurt would win it. We didn't expect Williamson to hurt us like he did. But that's the way it is with us. We bring out career games from everybody."

And 'everybody' was the key word in this scenario. Both starting fives, and the substitutes off the bench, had an active role in the outcome. This time LSU was two better than UNLV.

"Hopefully next time we'll be two better than them," Hunt concluded. "We always like a second shot against teams who beat us."

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