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April 19, 2014

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Rebels look out for No. 1

Second-half rally rubs out Razorbucks

FAYTEVILLE, Ark. --Number one remains No. 1 today because it looked out for precisely that when it could least afford not to.

UNLV, the team that thrives on adversity and has almost a siege mentality to it, gave it their best “Us-against-them” effort Sunday and No. 2 Arkansas could not cope as the top-ranked Rebels posted an impressive 112-105 victory with an entire basketball-crazed nation looking on.

The showdown, billed as “The Dream Game” around the state, hade been hyped for what seemed like weeks. Even coach Jerry Tarkanian, who had been in big games before, hadn’t experienced anything like this.

“Every place I went, all people wanted to do was talk about the game,” he said. “I went for a walk the other day and three cars stopped me. They wanted to take my picture.”

Sunday, the only thing the rabid Arkansas fans wanted was a piece of Tarkanian’s hide, not to mention his players’. But the team remained focused and dispelled the rumor they would be rattled.

But what the Razorbucks and the record Barnhill Arena crowd of 9,640 fans probably didn’t count on was UNLV’s ability to deal with the adversity head on and push it aside. This battle-hardened group had survived the barbs at Santa Barbara’s Thunderdome and the insults at Utah State’s Spectrum. As Greg Anthony so aptly put it, after you’ve been insulted at Santa Barbara, Barnhill is no big deal.

“A lot of people don’t realize we play in a lot of tough places,” Anthony said. “This is a great arena and not to take anything away from their fans, because they’re great, but we’re used to these kinds of places.”

And because it has dealt with no hostility before, UNLV managed to overcome an 11-0 first-half run, a six-point deficit and eventually, a four-point halftime disadvantage which put them on the short side of the ledger at the break for the first time this year.

But their resiliency also propelled them to go on an extended 16-2 run at the start of the second half, which put an end to Arkansas’ 19-game home winning streak.

To a man, the Rebels said team unity got them through this one.

“Most definitely,” senior center George Ackles said. “We stuck together and everybody played hard. It was one time where it paid off.”

Larry Johnson, who along with Ackles led UNLV’s second-half surge and finished with 25 points and 14 rebounds, said the closeness between the Rebels was a big factor in the team’s turnaround Sunday.

“We kept it together,” Johnson said. “Me and Greg were on the floor talking to each other, pointing things out. We were a little confused at the start but we communicated and straightened it out.”

Anthony, for one, was upset with the team’s performance during the first half and told his teammates in the locker room to pick up the pace.

“I told the guys to play like we were down 10, even though it was only four,” Anthony said. “Everyone had to reach down a little.”

Anthony had an explanation for the team’s responding to his talk.

“It’s Rebel pride,” Anthony said. “Some teams turn tail and run. We like to think we can take it up a notch.”

UNLV did raise it a notch. Or three. Ackles had a career-high 17 points playing against a top-notch center in Arkansas’ Oliver Miller. Stacey Augmon had a season-high 31 points. Anderson Hunt had a strong game with 26 points, many coming in UNLV’s deadly transition game.

Augmon couldn’t help but notice the togetherness on the court.

“It was a big factor. A big factor,” he said. “Everyone stayed together. Nobody panicked. When one of us did something dumb, the other guy told him not to worry about it and keep playing hard. That kind of support was important.”

The Rebels, who improved to 20-0, faced true adversity on the court for the first time this season. Arkansas used an 11-0 run midway through the first half to build a 36-30 lead after trailing 30-25. And with the Barnhill crowd screaming for blood, Nolan Richardson’s team went for the early knockout.

But a veteran team like UNLV doesn’t hit the deck so easily. The Rebels, behind Augmon, rallied with a 10-2 run of their own and it was nip-and-tuck the rest of the half. Three three-point field goals by Arkansas against the 1-3-1-amoeba zone defense, including a tough trey by Lee Mayberry just before halftime, gave the Hogs a 50-46 lead.

“ I didn’t think we played all that badly in the first half,” Tarkanian said. “I thought our man to man defense was pretty good. We weren’t getting beat on the dribble and the only thing that bothered me was we gave them six or seven layups because we didn’t rotate back.”

Actually, the amoeba caused problems for the 23-3 Razorbacks. They had to launch shots from long distance and it was hard work getting people open. And maybe, their frustration being unable to dominate against the amoeba may have had something to do with their lethargic start in the second half.”

“We don’t like to play zone,” Anthony said. “But today, it was effective.

Perhaps more than anyone could have imagined, Arkansas was sluggish at the start of the second half and UNLV jumped all over the Hogs. A 10-0 run put UNLV back on top to stay and was punctuated and UNLV’s domination of the defensive glass.

“We started to get after it in the second half,” Ackles said. “We just came out and played our game. It was like, ‘Bust their ass right quick and let’s get out of here.’”

Arkansas never recovered from the point as UNLV quickly built the lead to 10. Then 14. Then 16.Then 21. Finally, the Rebels had a 23-point edge with 6:23 to go. If Tarkanian had elected to keep running, it probably would have been worse. Instead, he decided to hold the ball threw the offense our rhythm as Arkansas made a belated rally in the late stages.

But the Rebels showed their poise, even when Todd Day and Larry Johnson got into an altercation with 2:27 to go that resulted in both being ejected. At that point, Arkansas had much ground to make up and not enough time in which to do it.

So what happened to Arkansas in the second half?

“We came out flat,” Mayberry said. “I don’t know why but we did.”

Miller said: “Coach told us the first five minutes of the half would b the most important. But we didn’t play with the same intensity we did in the first half. If we had, I think we would have beaten them.”

It spoiled one of Miller’s best efforts of the year. The 270-pound junior played 33 minutes and avoided foul trouble for the most part, and had 22 points and 14 boards. Day led the Razorbacks with 26 points.

Richardson had an explanation.

“We made too many mistakes,” he said. “Vegas is the kind of team that baits a lot of passes. They get into the passing lanes and will make a steal when it looks like the man being passed to is wide open.

“Give them credit. They had 15 turnovers. We had 23. If we don’t turn the ball over, we have a chance to win. And all you ask for is a chance to win.”

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