Monday, Jan. 21, 1991 | 2 a.m.
There were 12 minutes to go in the first half Saturday night and Cal State Long Beach was hanging with UNLV.
The Rebels were clinging to an 18-17 lead and perhaps the 49ers could manage to keep it going and actually make a game of it. They dared to go where no other team had dared venture before.
It was a noble thought anyhow.
The Rebels’ defense, which had kept all opponents from thinking they could stay with UNLV, came alive and limited Long Beach to just eight points over those final 12 minutes of the first half. That 18-17 cliffhanger became a 53-25 halftime laugher, which culminated in a 114-63 rout as 19,444 fans at the Thomas and Mack Center thoroughly enjoyed the proceedings.
It left Long Beach Coach Seth Greenburg wondering what had hit his team.
“I’m not embarrassed by how much we lost by but by the way we stopped competing in the second half,” he said of his team, which dropped to 5-9 overall, 1-4 in the Big West Conference. “We just didn’t play very hard.”
“To tell you the truth, our kids hung their heads. They got down, but I guess that is human nature.”
When UNLV is defending the way it did those final 12 minutes of the first half, it can demoralize the best of teams. Greenberg’s team is young, trying to find itself and adjust to a new way of doing things. This, they did not need.
“I thought our concept of how to play them was real solid,” he said. “We tried to take away the inside and when we had the ball, we tried to spread them and make them play both sides of the court.”
“Like I said, the concept was there but the execution was not.”
UNLV. Which had started out playing man-to-man, switched to its amoeba zone after five minutes, but went right back to the man-to-man. But with the 49ers hitting some tough shots, Jerry Tarkanian decided to go back to the Amoeba.
From the 12-minute mark on, it was all UNLV as the No. 1 – ranked Rebels improved to 13-0 overall, 7-0 in the Big West.
“It hurt them in the first half, Tarkanian said. “I thought our man defense was also good, but that was the best amoeba we’ve played this year.”
George Ackles, who came up with a couple of steals out of the Amoeba, said playing defense Saturday was more satisfying than scoring.
“When everyone’s talking and moving it’s tough,” he said. “Communication is the main thing. Everyone was on the same page tonight, working together.”
When told the Rebels had held Long Beach to just eight points over the last 12 minutes of the first half, Ackles shook his head.
“Really?” he said. “That’s amazing. Eight points. Wow.”
Greenberg still isn’t sure what had hit his team.
“I wish I had an answer for you,” he said. “We worked against it in practice. I thought we were prepared for it. But you just can’t emulate Vegas’ intensity. They’re so good defensively.”
Greenberg had to be frustrated by the idea his team had held Larry Johnson to just six first-half points yet trailed by 28 at intermission. He could thank Greg Anthony for that. The senior point guard had 17 of his 22 points in the first half while Long Beach collapsed around Johnson.
“Greg’s just playing super right now,” Tarkanian said. “He’s really raised his game the last couple of weeks.”
Anthony finished with 11 assists to go with the 22 points he scored. Johnson? He was given some freedom by the 49ers in the second half and took full advantage of it. Three straight three-point plays keyed a 17-point half for LJ, who wound up with 23 points and 11 rebounds.
“We wanted to shut Johnson down but with Anthony killing us we had to start defending the perimeter,” Greenberg said. “That’s what makes Vegas so tough. Thy have so many ways to beat you.”
Not to be lost amid the fine performances Saturday was Stacey Augmon’s 17-point, 11-rebound effort. Of course Augmon played a key role in coordinating UNLV’s impressive defensive posture, but his 6-for-7 shooting from the field, which included 3 of 4 from the three-point arc, will keep the critics at bay who say he can’t shoot.
He is also the team’s leader in field-goal percentage, holding a slim edge (.639) over his roommate Johnson (.634).