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Final Four Memories

1998 NCAA Men's Tournament

  UNLV Takes Title Running Away

By Anthony Cotton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 3, 1990; Page B1

 Jerry Tarkanian
UNLV head coach Jerry Tarkanian.
(TWP File Photo)
Nevada-Las Vegas's players didn't wait for the end of the game to revel in their performance in tonight's NCAA championship game against Duke. There was exultation in the screams from David Butler and Moses Scurry each time they yanked down a rebound, from Larry Johnson powering his way to the basket and from Anderson Hunt making three-point shot after three-point shot.

When the clock mercifully ended a record-setting 103-73 rout, what had been obvious for 40 minutes became official: The Runnin' Rebels are the nation's best team.

Hunt, the Final Four outstanding player, scored 29 points and Johnson 22 to lead UNLV (35-5), which shot 61 percent from the field and became the first school to score 100 points in a championship game. The Runnin' Rebels' 30-point margin of victory set another record as the title game's most lopsided ever.

Guard Phil Henderson had 21 points for Duke, which made its eighth Final Four appearance without earning the title.

In winning their first national title, the Runnin' Rebels became the first preseason No. 1 to take the championship since North Carolina in 1982. They are the first western team since the 1975 UCLA squad to win the national championship.

"We felt we had something to prove," Scurry said. "People were calling us thugs and things like that. We're human just like they are. All we wanted to do was go out and play basketball like every other school in the country."

The victory was extra special for Runnin' Rebels Coach Jerry Tarkanian, who has battled the NCAA since 1977. It was then the NCAA ordered the school to suspend him for violations, but Tarkanian went to court for an injunction and the case eventually reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the NCAA but said only UNLV could discipline him.

"This is not sweet revenge, it's just sweet," said Tarkanian, who had to be talked into accepting the championship trophy tonight. "I really did not want to accept the trophy. I wanted our athletic director to take it but they told me I had to, so I did."

Tarkanian said it wasn't that he wanted to get back at the NCAA. Instead, "I wanted to make the point this was not the biggest thing for me," he said. "The big thing to me is our fans. Probably the greatest satisfaction was our kids played so well for people that it meant so much for."

Immediately after the game, the UNLV players already were brandishing fitted championship rings. The company that produced them had taken measurements of the players from each of the schools that reached the regional finals.

Many thought UNLV would dominate play from the start of the 1989-90 season.

A loss to Kansas in the preseason National Invitation Tournament seemed to trigger an onslaught of surprise teams, though, both during the regular season and throughout an often unpredictable NCAA tournament.

The Blue Devils -- playing without Danny Ferry, last season's national player of the year -- had to be regarded as one of those upstart squads. Throughout the tournament, Duke talked about how young its team was, and that certainly was evident tonight.

In the first half the Atlantic Coast Conference team, which prides itself on its poise, suffered 14 turnovers, at times appearing incapable of getting into any kind of set offense. After intermission another of the team's standards, outstanding defense, could not stop an 18-0 UNLV run that broke the game open.

It took less than three minutes for UNLV to score those points. The flurry began with a jumper by Hunt that made the score 59-47 with 16:08 remaining. After a miss by Henderson and a television timeout, Johnson (who'd hit two three-point baskets in the half) faked another long shot then drove into the lane for a bank shot.

Henderson missed a three-pointer but Hunt didn't, to make the score 64-47 with 15:10 left. Duke turned over the ball on the ensuing possession and Hunt scored on a driving layup, the Blue Devils calling for a timeout at 14:49.

"I don't know if they played harder than us," said Duke center Alaa Abdelnaby. "They were just everywhere."

Duke turned over the ball again after the break, Hunt scoring on another driving layup to make it 68-47 with 14:42 left. Christian Laettner missed a reverse layup, which led to a fast break that ended with Stacey Augmon's dunk. That made the score 70-47 and once again Duke called for a timeout to try to break the momentum.

However, as was the case after the first break, the Blue Devils turned over the ball when play resumed (UNLV's 16 steals set a record for a tournament game), Johnson scoring on a layup. At the other end of the floor, Bobby Hurley missed a jump shot and UNLV came back with a three-pointer from Hunt, one of four for the sophomore (the Runnin' Rebels had eight in the game).

The score was 75-47 with 13:17 to play. In its improbable rush to the title game, Duke had been behind at the 10-minute mark in four of its five previous tournament games. But after Hunt's shot it was obvious there would be no comeback tonight.

"We thought we'd be able to move the ball more against them," said Duke assistant coach Mike Bray. "You think when you practice against our defense every day you're ready for anybody's defensive pressure but that was another level.

"We've never played against anything like that. It didn't matter if they were in a man or a zone, we couldn't do anything against it."

Even when they appeared to be doing something right, the result turned out wrong for the Blue Devils. At one point in the first half, reserve guard Brian Davis made a steal and was fouled while driving to the basket. In celebration, he leaped to give Laettner a high-five but their hands missed and he slapped Laettner's face.

With 52 seconds remaining in the first half, Abdelnaby hit two free throws and Bill McCaffrey added a pair with 6.5 seconds left to bring Duke to 45-35. That encouraging spurt was muted, though, when guard Greg Anthony drove the length of the floor for a running jump shot to give the Runnin' Rebels a 12-point edge at halftime.

Despite their turnovers and last-second gaffe, the Blue Devils had reason to be encouraged. Even in the first three minutes of the second half, with Johnson hitting his improbable three-pointers, Duke had to believe it was still in the game.

The Runnin' Rebels didn't share that feeling and began turning the screws with the 18-0 run. They said they felt a new sentiment rising from the Duke players: resignation.

"I felt like they gave up on themselves," said Scurry. "A team like that, I thought they'd be better, smarter than that."

Said Tarkanian: "I never felt I could win this tournament . . . . I've never been at a big-time program, UNLV turned into one but it wasn't back when I started.

"This is the best. All the pressure, the championship on the line, it's absolutely incredible."

© Copyright 1990 The Washington Post Company

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