Monday, March 9, 2009 | midnight
The 1976-77 UNLV basketball team brought the Rebels program to a national stage. The Rebels could score points faster than anybody in the country and they had a shifty senior point guard who may have been the best to ever play the position at UNLV.
Robert Smith ran the “Hardway Eight’s” offense to perfection, making everybody around him better. With Smith in control of the offense, the Rebels averaged 107 points per game and advanced to the first Final Four in school history.
The 1977 team went 29-3 and is still considered one of the best offensive teams in school history. Before Smith and his teammates took the Rebels to the Final Four, UNLV was a relatively unknown school out in the desert. The Hardway Eight introduced the country to Rebels basketball.
For a team with stars like Eddie Owens, Sam Smith and Glen Gondrezick, the contributions of the point guard can get overlooked. Smith didn’t have the greatest numbers, but nobody doubted his value. Everybody on that first Final Four team had a specific role, and Smith was a leader. He was always in control and seemed to double as a coach on the court.
UNLV gained attention for its offense in ’77, but those of the “Hardway Eight” say their scoring opportunities started with tenacious defense, which Smith helped lead.
Smith played lockdown defense and against almost anybody, which created many of the Rebels fast break chances. He was money from the free-throw line and is the best free-throw shooter in school history, knocking down 87.8 percent of his shots from the line for his career and 92.5 percent during the 1976-77 season. Smith ranks seventh on the Rebels list of career assists (445).
He went on to get drafted by the Denver Nuggets in the third round of 1977 NBA Draft, and played seven seasons for seven teams.