Monday, March 25, 1991 | 2 a.m.
SEATTLE - All season long, it has happened.
Teams would foolishly believe they were in the game with UNLV at halftime, even when trailing by double-digits.
Then play would begin in the second half and before you could say “blowout,” there would be a pile of bones as the Rebels would chew up and spit out yet another opponent.
You can add Seton Hall to the long list of victims that thought it could swim in the deep end only to be sent to the bottom by Jerry Tarkanian’s band of hungry sharks.
What UNLV did in the second half of its 77-65 win Saturday at the Kingdome over the Big East’s biggest beast won’t surprise Rebelologists at all. From opening night against Alabama-Birmingham, UNLV has run away and hidden from the opposition with an early second-half spurt.
Saturday, the Rebels ran off 14 straight points to turn a 39-36 nailbiter into a 43-36 laugher and allow the nearly 2,00 fans who have purchased Final Four tickets to go ahead with their plans for this weekend.
And if you think what UNLV did to Seton Hall may have been a fluke, look what the Rebels have done in the 1991 NCAA Tournament:
An 11-3 run against Montana turns a 48-34 game into a 59-37 rout. It takes less than two minutes. The Rebels roll, 99-65.
A 15-4 spurt against Georgetown in less then three minutes, highlighted by nine straight Larry Johnson points, turns a 29-25 squeaker into a 44-29 laugher as UNLV eventually wins, 62-54.
Johnson scores UNLV’s first five points of the second half against Utah as the Rebels go on a 14-7 run and turn a 41-35 game into a 55-42 affair. The Rebels go on to win easily, 83-66.
The question is, will Duke suffer the same fate at Saturday’s Final Four in Indianapolis as the other four tourney opponents have?
The Blue Devils get to exact their measure of revenge, if they can, for last year’s 30-point humiliation in Denver to UNLV. But at this point, that’s a mighty big “if” for Mike Krzyzewski’s team. Recent history says they can’t.
If you recall, Duke had pulled within 10 of UNLV, 57-47 with 16:24 to play and the belief was the Blue Devils would peck away until they made a run to either draw even or go ahead.
Instead, UNLV went on an 18-0 spurt in a 3:07 span that put Duke away as the Rebels cruised home by 30, 107-73.
Seton Hall must have been thinking the same thing Saturday as its players sat in the locker room only three down at intermission. It was 39-36 and the game was a three-point field goal away from being even.
“We knew they would come out hard,” Seton Hall Coach P.J. Carlesimo said of UNLV. We were hoping to get to the (TV) timeout and be in good shape. But they were too much for us. Their defensive intensity was tremendous.”
UNLV’s run was keyed by Johnson (who else?). Johnson had 10 of the 14 points as he connected on a pair of three-pointers from the top of the key, powered home a reverse slam dunk that just beat the 45-second clock and made a nice catch of an alley-oop pass from Stacey Augmon that he shot while on the move inside the paint.
By then, Carlesimo had expended a timeout. But the Rebels didn’t slow down, except for a momentary respite when Greg Anthony doused himself with a Coke after crashing into the scorer’s table following a steal. Anthony got the nearside official to blow the whistle.
But that was the only time UNLV paused. Its smother pressure defense baffled Seton Hall and it was a chore for the Pirates just to inbound the ball.
“Yeah they were confused,” Augmon said of Seton Hall, which finished 25-9. “You could see it in their faces. They were saying things to each other. It was like, ‘Wow, what are we going to do now?’ You might say that was the backbreaker for us.”
That and Johnson’s domination inside. He finished with 30 points and was named the West Regional’s most valuable player. It’s a combination hold the 34-0 Rebels have applied more often than a Hulk Hogan powerslam. For even though Seton Hall knew it (the pressure defense and Johnson’s offense) was coming, there wasn’t much the Pirates could do about it.
“They were overplaying a lot and that gives you a lot of confusion on offense,” said Seton Hall point guard Oliver Taylor. “When they do that, you can’t really start your offense because they force you to the outside. That was a big part of it.”
The other big part was UNLV’s shutting down Seton Hall streak shooter Terry Dehere, who was limited to one three-pointer long after the outcome had been decided.
Tarkanian started Anthony on Dehere and Dehere was just 4-of-10 in the first half with 12 points. But Anthony picked up two quick fouls late in the half and was saddled with three.
Rather than risk Anthony fouling out attempting to stop Dehere, Tarkanian opted for Anderson Hunt, who was playing with a sprained left shoulder after getting run into by Gordon Winchester on a pick in the first half.
Hunt, who was struggling from the outside himself, decided if wasn’t going to score, neither was Dehere.
“It was a pride thing,” Hunt said. “If I’m not scoring, I’m sure not going to let my man get any.”
“Actually he was easier to guard than I thought. He would grab my shirt instead of going hard off the pick. All that did was allow me to come up closer on him.”
Hunt did an outstanding job as Dehere finished with 15 points. Hunt had 13, but at least he can atone for his 5-of-16 shooting performance at Indianapolis Saturday. Dehere will have to wait for next year.
Tarkanian has said it before and he said it again. The second-half performance by his ballclub left him proud.
“I thought we really came out and played great, great defense,” he said. “When we’re playing like that, we can get our running game going and we executed our offense well.”
“I thought the first half was a hard-played game by both teams. But I don’t think we could have played any better than we did the second half.”
Nobody in South Orange, N.J., is arguing. And the folks in Durham, N.C., are hoping there’s no encore performance of the Rebels’ second half Saturday in the Hoosier Dome. They’ve studied up on their history and they don’t like what they’ve read.