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Final Four Memories

1998 NCAA Men's Tournament

  UNLV's Wade Gives Indiana an Assist

By Ken Denlinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 29, 1987; Page D11


Thirty seconds from the end of the only NCAA semifinal worth the price of a ticket, a cornerstone theory of basketball finally was reaffirmed: No team, not even one that hits jumpers from the parking lot, can win going four-on-five on offense.

Strange about Nevada-Las Vegas. It has a couple of players for whom a 22-foot shot is almost a layup; it also has a wonderful little playmaker who Saturday could not drop the ball into the hoop if he were standing on the rim.

Indiana dared Mark Wade to shoot jumpers most youngsters on most playgrounds would give their fancy sneakers to take. He either wouldn't or couldn't, until the end.

The ultimate irony in Indiana's 97-93 victory was that Wade scored the next-to-last UNLV basket -- his only field goal of the evening. And from three-point range, of all things. When victory no longer was possible.

This was an affair to remember, if not entirely savor. And Wade was pivotal to much that went right for the Hoosiers, and what went both right and wrong for the Runnin' Rebels.

Coach Jerry Tarkanian hardly was upset with Wade, for the smallest player on the court set a tournament record with 18 assists. Fact is, Wade had two more assists than all the selfless Hoosiers combined.

Most of Wade's passes were directed toward Armon Gilliam (32 points) and Freddie Banks (38 points). Gilliam was the game's best player, for most of his 14 baskets came with Wade's man also clawing at his hands.

That extra Indiana help usually came from Steve Alford, who could keep Gilliam from taking fairly easy shots by dropping as much as eight feet off Wade at times. At the other end of the court, it often was Wade being treated no better than a pinball by an Indiana offense that might well be called Steve Alford and The Picks.

The game was as much of a contrast in styles as anyone could imagine. Indiana frequently was a textbook in precise, cerebral basketball. UNLV kept itself alive -- and snapped a crowd close to slumber after the first game to attention -- by burying shots that stayed in the air forever.

Syracuse had invented a three-point play in its victory over Providence, that being a combination of awfulness and alertness rarely seen at any level of the game. How many times have you seen a player miss his bonus free throw, only to have teammates get the rebound and convert it into two more points? Providence Coach Rick Pitino will see it routinely in his dreams.

UNLV fished for the more conventional three-pointers. Like most anglers, too many of the big ones got away. Still, Banks kept matters tense until he missed one of the few shots with absolutely nobody in his face. That was a foul shot, the first of a one-and-one situation that could have pulled UNLV to within two points with 28 seconds left.

Banks had bombed a three-pointer to get UNLV within five down the stretch; he had bombed a three-pointer to narrow the lead to four with 71 seconds left. On each of those shots, a defender was flying at him. They swished ever so smoothly. Then . . . alone on the foul line . . . clank.

"With 1:38 left," said Gary Graham, "I felt like we were gonna win it. But that UNLV firepower wasn't there."

Indiana's was.

Game long, this was the familiar scene: Alford running around teammates who would be comfortable on football rosters as tight ends. Wade would be tagging along, bumping into and off Alford's friends until a relatively open shot developed.

"It's like trying to get through an offensive line," Wade said. "Every time you turn around, someone is setting a pick on you. Their whole offense is geared to getting Steve open, and they do a good job of it."

"They get set so well," Banks said, "that it's like trying to run through a brick wall. Also, there was a lot of heat :in the seemingly airy Superdome:. There were 60-some-thousand people in there. It seemed like body heat. Fatigue finally kicked in."

Perhaps the fatigue also was from hoisting so many three-pointers, 19 in all. At least Banks made 10 of them. The unimaginably greedy Gerald Paddio missed six of eight three-pointers.

And the luckless Wade was zero for five until his final, pressureless effort with six seconds left. By that time, Indiana's Bob Knight was relaxing.

He was on his best behavior, reasonably quiet and within the coach's box the entire game. He even fussed at Alford and Wade to stop talking trash at each other and concentrate on the game.

Knight's only error was etiquette, failing to adhere to pregame tradition by joining his team in a huddle instead of walking to midcourt and shaking Tarkanian's hand.

Since lesser coaches have been publicly scolded here for stalling too soon late in the game, perhaps a small slap ought to be directed toward Knight for similar tactics near the end.

Indiana missed a couple of bonus free throws and turned the ball over once to a half-court trap. But Alford and reserve Joe Hillman were bright enough twice to call time when caught in a jam.

UNLV left with a Knightmare and a nightmare. The Indiana coach ran an offensive clinic. And his gamble that Wade's brilliant passing would be offset by his erratic shooting got him the chance at college basketball's biggest pot.

© Copyright 1987 The Washington Post Company

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