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July 29, 2014

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Rebel’s act plays well on the road

Johnson keys rout at Irvine

IRVINE, Calif. --If America is going to need a break from the war in the Persian Gulf, and it will, it need only tune in to a couple of hours of UNLV basketball.

What it will find is a team that remains remarkably focused in its quest to be remembered as one of the great teams of all time. Not even Saddam Hussein can sidetrack the Rebels at this point.

With the crisis in the Gulf escalating by the minute, UNLV went into the Bren Events Center Thursday night and wiped out UC Irvine 117-76 in much the same way it has dispatched each of its 11 previous foes.

Stacey Augmon smothered Jeff Herdman, UCI’s top gun. Larry Johnson made life miserable for the Anteaters inside and Anderson Hunt did likewise from the perimeter.

Meanwhile, the Rebels had an answer for anything Bill Mulligan’s team tried to do to them defensively. The Anteaters, who fell to 7-11 overall and 2-4 in the Big West, shot a frigid 31 percent from the field.

“To play this well on the road with everything that’s going on, I’m very pleased,” UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian said. “They spent all day watching television. That’s all they talked about.

“But we talked about how important it is that we remain focused (on basketball). I thought we were running good in the first half and we got after them defensively in the second half.”

UNLV (12-0 overall, 6-0 in the Big West) adjusted nicely offensively. Mulligan had the Anteaters come out in a matchup zone and the Rebels found the seams and hit the shots. Hunt, who finished with 19 points, had 17 in the first half against the zone.

They overloaded against the matchup and that was the first time we had seen them do that,” Mulligan said. We tried to take away the outside in the second half and they went down low to Johnson.”

Johnson, who had another double-double with 25-points and 16 rebounds, found himself playing one-on-one against Ricky Butler and a host of others. But it didn’t matter. He dominated inside and he did damage in the first 29 minutes Thursday.

And yes, Johnson was focused on the task at hand.

“We were ready to play,” he said. “Everyone knows the situation the world is in. There isn’t too much we can do about it. We have to go out there and play.”

Both teams sported American flag patches on their uniforms in support of the armed forces taking part in Operation Desert Storm. It was obviously not a normal basketball evening, but the Rebel’s performance was indeed normal. At least as far as this season is concerned.

“I don’t think they played that great tonight and they still kicked our butts,” Butler said. Larry Johnson said during the first half, “Let’s go home.”

The Anteaters weren’t quite ready to go home in the opening minutes. They maintained contact with the Rebels, cutting a 19-point deficit to 11 with less than two minutes to go in the half.

But UNLV held safe, taking a 13-point edge into the locker room at intermission, then blowing it open with a 22-7 run over the first eight minutes to lead 82-54.

Augmon, who finished with 18 points, put on a dunking exhibition. Ten of his 18 points came off dunks, including a two-handed reverse, a double pump, a hesitation dunk and a put-back jam that had the sellout Bren Events Center crowd of 5,005 oohing and aahing.

Meanwhile, Augmon kept Herdman in check. The Anteaters forward scored just four of his 18 while Augmon was on him.

“Stacey was sensational,” Tarkananian said. “We told him he couldn’t let Herdman get going and he really clamped down on him.”

Mulligan said, “As good as Johnson is, I’m not sure Augmon isn’t better.”

Butler said, “They’re all good. It got to the point where I had to ask George (Ackles) to please leave my shot alone.”

“It’s not a feeling of helplessness going against the, but it’s definitely tough.”

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