Rebels play Little Rock and roll

SALT LAKE CITY ---Arkansas –Little Rock was under the mistaken impression that second-ranked UNLV is a team it could run with.

About the only time the Trojans had an opportunity to run was when they were chasing down the Rebels in Thursday night’s opening round of the NCAA West Regional’s won by UNLV 102-72 before 11,809 in the Huntsman Center.

The Trojans, who thrive on an up-tempo game, had only two fast-break baskets against the second-ranked Rebels, who will play Ohio State, which beat Providence 84-83 in overtime, Saturday at 11:25 a.m. (PST). The Rebels, on the other hand, raced up and down the floor leaving Little Rock gasping for air.

What impressed UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian even more than the running game was the play of his substitutes, who came off the bench to account for a total of 48-points. In recent games, Tarkanian’s said bench hasn’t been a welcome sight on the floor.

But led by Travis Bice, James Jones and Barry Young, the second unit played well for most of the second half. There were some moments when the substitutes played like the second stringers that they are, but for the most part, they did their job.

“I was real pleased at how our second unit came in there and did such a good job,” Tarkanian said. “They haven’t done that all year. Our starters needed the rest, and we needed our second team to come in and get some confidence playing in the tournament.

“I thought our defense was pretty good. “We didn’t let them get the shots they wanted. This is a pretty good shooting team, and we stopped them. There were some times when we didn’t guard them, but overall I was pleased. Our bench came in and did a great job. That can only help us.

The 30-5 Rebels never trailed against the 20-10 Trojans. Their defensive pressure forced 15 turnovers, and had Arkansas-Little Rock’s guards battling confusion for most of the evening. Entering the game, top Trojan scorer Carl Brown said he wouldn’t be intimidated by the pressure the Rebel’s guards have become famous for this season.

But things didn’t turn out that way. Coach Mike Sewell’s kids had no easy shots. Whatever they knocked down early on, they earned. The Rebels limited the Trojans to only 23 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes, and 32 percent for the game.

The only scored three points the last 7:53 of the first half enroute to trailing 44-25, but that wasn’t good enough for Tarkanian, who gave his guys a thorough tongue-lashing or some questionable decisions. What Tarkanian said, worked.

“I didn’t think we played all that well, and we’re up by 19,” Tarkanian said. “That surprised me. I told our guys not to let up any. We’ve done that at times this year. I didn’t yell that much, but I wanted them to stay intense.”

UNLV came out in the second with a brand of intensity the Trojans aren’t accustomed to seeing in the Trans America Athletic Conferences. The Trojans only worse loss this season as to Oklahoma (134-81). And that occurred when two of their starters were out with injuries. Everyone was around for this dismal affair.

James Scott led the way with 23 points, while Derrick Owens finished with 17. Rod Wade rounded out the Trojans attack with 14.

“This is a very good basketball team,” Sewell said of the Rebels. “Their defensive pressure is some of the best in the country. We knew that coming in. They didn’t do anything we didn’t expect Vegas to do, but they do it so well. There’s not much you can do against them.”

“I think in summary it’s obviously why we were the 16th seed and they are the first seed. The committee was right on that. Our guys tried hard, but there will be nights when the shots don’t fall. We had to play a near-perfect game, and we didn’t come close.”

Stacey Augmon and Larry Johnson led UNLV’s attack early on---that had a lot to do with the Trojans’ demise. Augmon has played exceptionally well in his last four games, and continued to impress those at courtside by scoring nine point in the opening five minutes to set the torrid place.

He finished with 16 points and seven rebounds, while Johnson came home with 13 and 12, respectively. David Butler and Anderson Hunt rounded out the starters assault with 14 and 11 points, UNLV outrebounded he smaller Little Rock squad 52-43.

Bice and Young each had 12. Jones went to the showers with 13. The Rebels had seven players finish in double figures. The second unit played from the 12-minute mark on in. Augmon signaled the bench clearing by Tarkanian when attempting a show-dunk that left Tarkanian stunned.

Augmon stole a pass, and then tossed the ball in front of him, often seen in a slam-dunk contest. He was called for traveling but that didn’t matter to Tarkanian. He was displeased with the effort.

“You don’t try something like that even when you’re up by 80,” Tarkanian said. “I’ve never seen Stacy do anything like that. Coach (Tim) Grgurich said to me, ‘What the heck is he doing?’ I took him out. I was totally shocked he would try that. That’s not like Stacey to show a team up.”

Augmon said he “would probably never try something like that again.”

“Probably?” Johnson asked, and then smiled.

“Definitely,” Augmon said. “It’s something I work on after practice. I wasn’t trying to show up the other team.”

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