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September 21, 2014

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UNLV maintains its perch

New Mexico State unable to unseat Rebels, 86-74

LAS CRUCES, N.M. ---The King lives.

UNLV, the king of the Big West Conference--and all of college basketball, for that matter--remains the monarch of hoopdom despite the best efforts of the subjects to remove them from the throne.

The Rebels came into the Pan American Center Monday night and would not allow New Mexico State to spoil their plans for a perfect season. Led by Stacey Augmon’s 24 points along with Larry Johnson’s 22 and Anderson Hunt’s 19, UNLV continued on its merry way, posting an 86-74 win. It was the same score as nine days ago, when these two teams met at the Thomas and Mack Center.

The win, UNLV’s 37th straight, came one day before the one-year anniversary of its last loss. It was on Feb 26, 1990 that the Rebels fell 78-70 at UC Santa Barbara.

UNLV, 26-0, clinched its ninth straight Big West title with Monday’s win. The Rebels are now 17-0 in league play heading into Saturday’s finale at Cal State Fullerton.

“What a tremendous performance,” coach Jerry Tarkanian said. “To come in to such a hostile environment and win is absolutely amazing.”

With 13,007 loud and angry Aggie fans trying to intimidate the Rebels, the team’s senior leadership made sure they didn’t unravel.

“The main thing was we were patient,” said George Ackles, who have five blocked shots. “We were rushing things in the first half and it threw us off our game.

“But we played with intensity and poise and that’s what got us through.”

New Mexico State’s William Benjamin, who had 14 points to go along with Randy Brown’s 22, said the Rebels were not going to be intimidated.

“They’re good,” he said. “They go out and take care of business. They didn’t seem to get rattled.

“Every time we had run, we’d go through stretch where they’d shoot and miss but they’d get the rebound, bring it back out, shoot it and make it. They’ve got a lot of poise.”

New Mexico State, the first team to avoid being down by at least 20 points against UNLV this season, was unable to sustain its runs, especially in the second half hen the 21-4 Aggies could get no closer than eight.

“The rebounding was the difference,” Benjamin said. “When we played then at their place, we rebounded with them. But tonight, we didn’t do as well.”

UNLV held only a two-rebound edge (32-30), but it did grab the key rebounds whenever the Aggies attempted to extend the run.

Actually, the Rebels never got one of their famous extended runs going either. The best UNLV could do were a couple of 12-2 runs, one in each half.

“When you play a good team on the road, the tempo is going to slow down,” UNLV’s Greg Anthony said. “When they extended the zone on us, we became a little passive offensively.”

“I thought we attached it better in the second half, but they played us tough. They’re a very good team.”

Johnson said the same thing. “Give them credit they played hard,” he said. “But we kept working hard, too. Every time we got in the huddle, we kept saying, ‘We’re down 10, we’re down 10.’ Nobody let up.”

UNLV’s biggest lead was 18 (68-50) with 11: to play, thanks to the second of its 12-2 runs. But Benjamin hit 3 three-pointers to keep New Mexico State in range.

But key rebounds, a wealth of patience on offense and tough defense enabled Tarkanian’s team to get out of Las Cruces with a ‘W.’

“ I thought we did a great job attacking their zone,” Tarkanian sad about New Mexico State’s 3-2 matchup zone. “The kids executed the offense well.”

Ackles said, “We had worked in it in practice. All we had to do was take our time.”

New Mexico State Coach Neil McCarthy said his team played well but came up sort of the perfect game he thought it would have to play to beat UNLV.

“You make a turnover and it’s over,” he said. “They convert immediately.

“We had a little run there and we thought we could come back on them. But they hurt us on the boards and we missed some easy shots.”

McCarthy, as he had said nine days ago in Las Vegas, called UNLV the best team he had ever gone up against.

“I think we played well tonight, but I think their winning the Final Four and the way they did it, steamrolling Duke, gave them a lot of confidence.

“They’ve just got so much poise. Nothing rattles them. They are just the best.”

Just one more subject paying homage to the king.

Rebels notes

A replica shark, which was hoisted above the rafters in what is known for “Effigy Heaven,” was brought back for Monday’s game and was hung from the ceiling. UNLV lost here last year and joined other Big West mascots up in the rafters. By averaging last year’s loss, don’t look for the shark in “Effigy Heaven,” next year. …Hunt and Antony played the full 40 minutes while Johnson played 39. …Johnson and Augmon combined for 21 of UNLV’s 32 rebounds, with Augmon leading with 11. …New Mexico State, which moved up to 11th in the Associated Press poll Monday, has two home games remaining and no can be working on a new home win streak. The Aggies had won 29 straight before UNLV came to town. ….Tarkanian gave the team today off before practice resumes Wednesday in preparation for Saturday’s game inn Fullerton.

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