Thursday, Jan. 31, 1991 | midnight
SAN JOSE, CALIF. --Night after night, Larry Johnson takes a beating in the paint. And virtually every night he accepts it as a part of their job.
But Thursday night, he may have reached the end of his rope.
The UNLV All-American forward was getting pummeled practically every time he touched the ball. If there wasn’t an elbow in his back, there was a hand holding his shirt or a boy leaning on his.
And with 5:28 to play in the Rebels’ 88-64 win over San Jose State, Johnson decided enough was enough. He was going to the basket for another laying when San Jose State’s Chad Higginbotham and Mike Brotherton did a double-team number on him that sent him crashing to the floor.
Johnson came off the deck with fire in his eyes and he went right for the 6-9 Brotherton. But before he could take any action, his teammates got in between Johnson and Brotherton.
It has been a long road trip for 17-0 Rebels (10-0 in the Big West), who left for Santa Barbara a week ago Sunday and had stops in Louisville and Logan, Utah, prior to finishing their four-game trip at the SJSU Event Center.
At each stop, the locals have been less than kind to UNLV, particularly to Johnson. He was berated in Santa Barbara. He was hounded in Louisville. He was verbally undressed in Utah and by the time he got hammered in the second half at San Jose, he had caught more than an earful from the SJS fans.
Add to that the physical pounding he took in each game and maybe it was wearing on him.
Johnson would not talk about it after the game, but UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian noticed Johnson’s usually sunny disposition had turned cloudy.
“I could tell Larry was angry tonight,” Tarkanian said. “But he got hammered today. He’s not that type of kid. You know that. But a person can only take so much.”
And Johnson has taken plenty this season. He’s a marked man in every opponent’s defensive scheme and he’s going to attract double-teaming, and sometimes triple-teaming, whenever the ball gets kicked down low to him.
Which made his 21-point, 18-rebound performance against the 5-14 Spartans (3-7 in the Big West) that much more impressive. He never had a moment’s peace Thursday but he continued to play his game, drawing the contact and finishing off the play.
But ever person has their limit and Johnson may have reached his Thursday.
Meanwhile, San Jose State Coach Stan Morrison defended his team’s tactics.
“We’re going to play as physically as we can,” he said. “But we don’t play dirty. We knock someone down, we help them up and the play’s over.”
“Frankly, I don’t think we wrestled in the mud with them like we did the first time we played them. I’m pleased to hear we were aggressive because I didn’t think we were.”
Morrison also wanted to set the record straight as far as Johnson was concerned.
“I have a great deal of respect for Larry Johnson,” Morrison said. “He’s a great person. He had a tremendous game tonight. We tried to slow him down and we weren’t as successful as we had to be against him.”
Morrison had Kevin Logan front Johnson in the low post to try to deny him the ball. That kind of tactic requires physical play on the defender’s part and Logan managed to do a decent job of denying Johnson the ball on the entry pass.
“I think Kevin may have frustrated Larry a little,” Morrison said. “We wanted to front him and keep him from setting up down low with the ball and he did a good job denying Larry.”
But as is usually the case in these wars of attrition down low, Johnson usually comes out the victor and Thursday was yet another example. He dominated the offensive glass, which is his forte. He also had some big rebounds, two in particular after the foul on Higginbotham with 5:28 to play.
The first was a two-hand, spread eagle job where he went soaring over the Spartans and brought it down with authority. The next rebound was similar, Johnson slamming the ball into his open palm for emphasis as the Event Center record crowd of 4,867 voiced its disapproval.
Perhaps it was Johnson’s way of getting even for the rough treatment he had received. Or perhaps it was his frustration with the lack of protection he seems to be getting from the officials as opponents beat on him like a human bongo.
Tarkanian said he would have a talk with Johnson today before practice and find out if there is anything bothering his star.
“I think Larry will be all right,” Tarkanian said. “I don’t think a player minds getting hammered as long as the refs are calling it. If they’re calling it, you don’t feel as bad.”
Still, you get hit enough times, it no longer becomes a mater of feeling bad. It becomes a matter of feeling mad.
Mike Wasserburger, a backup guard who started in place of the injured Andre Brooks, led San Jose State with 15 points, including four three-point field goals….H Waldman saw his first action since struggling against Louisville and played seven minutes. …UNLV led by 16 at the half and was up as many as 30 late in the game. …Tarkanian called the teams second half the worst of the season. “This was the first time all year where we just went through the motions,” he said. “I thought San Jose played harder than we did.” …Anderson Hunt appeared headed for a big game after scoring 13 in the first half. But Hunt took just three shots in the second half and finished with 15. …San Jose State managed just one more turnover than UNLV (17 to 16) and had one more assist than the Rebels. (19 to 18). … In addition to today’s practice, Tarkanian will work the team Saturday in preparation for Sunday’s p.m. game with Rutgers at the Thomas and Mack Center. “We need a hard practice,” he said. “I think Saturday, we’ll go hard.”