What if…?

Questions linger in defeat’s wake

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Associated Press

UNLV’s Anderson Hunt (12) leaves the floor after losing to Duke in an NCAA semifinal game in Indianapolis on March 30, 1991. Duke defeated UNLV 79-77.

INDIANAPOLIS—In the wake of UNLV’s lone defeat of 1990-91, two words sum up the Rebels’ 79-77 loss to Duke in Saturday’s Final Four semifinal at the Hoosier Dome:

“What if?”

What if Greg Anthony had not fouled out with 3:51 to player? What if an intentional foul had been called on Duke’s Bobby Hurley after he blatantly hacked Anderson Hunt in the second half? What if Larry Johnson had not received a technical foul for going after Hurley? What if?

What if coach Jerry Tarkanian put that small lineup on the floor earlier, which included Johnson guarding Duke’s Christian Laettner? What if UNLV had gotten credit for two baskets that were wiped out by offensive fouls and two Duke baskets that were credited on questionable goaltending calls?

What if?

What if George Ackles had shot the ball more? What if Stacey Augmon had shown up? What if Johnson had shot the ball in the final seconds instead of throwing it back out to Anderson Hunt for a desperation three-pointer that missed the mark?

What if?

That may be all people remember of this incredible 34-1 season and 45-game winning streak that came to a sudden end amid a blue seas of jubilation as the Blue Devils avenged their 30-point humiliation at the hands of the Rebels a year ago at Denver in the NCAA championship game.

Tarkanian and his players hope that isn’t the case.

“This was the greatest team I’ve ever been associated with,” Tarkanian said. “I loved these kids. I never had a team that was so unselfish and so loyal and I told them they have nothing to be ashamed about and to hold their heads up.”

Anthony, who played his final collegiate game and scored 19 points, said he’ll always remember this season as something special.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “We got to do a lot of things together many teams don’t.”

But Anthony said the loss hurt, especially with him being unable to help after fouling out.

“It’s a lot tougher to lose a game like this than lose by 30,” he said. “There’s probably going to be a lot of second-guessing but this is the best team not to have won a national championship.”

Hunt, who played with a sprained left shoulder and led all scorers with 29 points, said Duke wanted it more.

“It was a great win for Duke,” Hunt said. “They played hard and smart and pulled the upset on us.”

Anthon also thought it was important to give Duke some credit.

“Another team played well. We didn’t,” he said. “They made the lost shot and we didn’t. That’s all.”

How hard did the UNLV players take the defeat? Many boarded the bus as soon as possible and refused comment. Augmon and Hunt left Indianapolis late Saturday night, Augmon for Cincinnati and Hunt for Detroit. There was silence on the team’s bus for the entire 25-minute trip to the team’s hotel.

“There’s not much you can say about it,” Ackles said. “We played a good team that played well and we lost.”

Tarkanian was still struggling with the loss Sunday afternoon, still second-guessing some of his moves

“It feels worse,” when asked if time had healed his wounded heart. “I keep replaying it over and over.

“There are some things I don’t understand. We were so good on the fast break. Maybe the best I’ve ever seen. And we messed up so many fast breaks.

“Maybe I should have had George shoot it more. We knew they were going to sag off him and double-team Larry,” Tarkanian continued. “I just feel so bad for the kids. I never had a team that played so well so long and in so many games.”

It may be a long time before UNLV returns to the lofty heights of the Final Four. The team will be barred from the next year’s tournament as part of the settlement of Tarkanian’s 13-year case with the NCAA and with the current inquiry of the men’s basketball program, those sanctions could be extended a couple more years.

Then there are the rumors Tarkanian may leave UNLV for the National Basketball Association. He said after the game he intends to return to UNLV next year but he has spoken to three NBA clubs and sources close to Tarkanian said if the right offer from the pros comes along, he’ll leave the college ranks.

All season, the word was to beat UNLV, a team had to get Anthony on the bench, try and contain Johnson and Augmon and no UNLV go off on one of its extended runs especially in the second half.

Duke was the first team to do that. Anthon fouled out for the first time this season. Johnson and Augmon combined for 19 points and were just 8 of 20 from the field. And UNLV never was able to run off more than six straight points in the second half.

There was a 17-5 first-half run that put the Rebels up 23-20 after trailing 15-6, but that was the biggest spurt by UNLV, which loses six seniors to graduation, including Augmon, Anthony, Johnson and Ackles.

“I still think we’re part of history,” Anthony said. “What’s more important than the game itself is the love we have for each other. We’re going to be happy as people go on and on.”

“You can make excuses all day, but I credit Duke for outplaying us.”

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