Like so many other tourists, Maryland's basketball players left this city today losers.
They played at the deadliest place in town, where the Nevada-Las Vegas Runnin' Rebels used a 94-88 victory last night at the Las Vegas Convention Center, to raise their home record to 87-4 in five-plus seasons under Jerry Tarkanian.
UNLV guards Flintie Ray Williams and Tony Smith conbined for 43 points, the Rebels forced 30 turnovers and changed them into 32 points, leaving the Terrapins the feeling all losers here have: Lady Luck turned her head at the wrong moment.
Terp forward Al King, whose quickness, rebounding and savvy were needed in this running shootout, had to sit down after four minutes with a sprained knee.
He will be examined Wednesday by the team physician.
In his 240 seconds on the floor, King brought down four rebounds and scored two points. Would it have been a different game if King had played more?
"Don't remind me," was the star's reply.
Hustling to make up for the loss of King, power forward Buck Williams played a spectacular 34 minutes, scoring 17 points and keeping the Terps in the game with 22 rebounds, Williams and Larry Gibson's board play put just enough of a dent in the Vegas fast break to keep it close throughout, even though Maryland could not come any closer than three points in the second half.
Ernest Graham, who moved from guard to King's forward spot, almost made the difference by himself, hitting 10 field goals for a team-high 20 points. It was while Graham was cooling off on the bench after a technical that Vegas fattened a 68-65 lead to 76-67. The Rebels then stopped running, spreading the offense and holding the ball to keep Maryland virtually out of the game the rest of the way.
Tarkanian's team is quick, plays aggressive defense and has guards who can hit from the cheap seats. The fact that Maryland lost by six points without King would have almost been encouraging, if the Terps' back-court play had not been so suspect.
Maryland's play around the basket was good but the Terps had difficulty with the Vegas press. The blame for that does not fall entirely on the guards.
Point guards Dutch Morley and Reggie Jackson accounted for 11 of Maryland's turnovers, but on several occasions, they did not receive enough help from the big men.
"Vegas is much quicker than we thought they would be and they really hurt us with that full-court press," said Jackson. "We had poor pass selection and got nervous when they were all over us."
The fact that Williams was able to bag 10 of 14 shots, most of them open outside jumpers, should be a thorn in Maryland's side.
But Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell said, "many of those jumpers, I would have given them again."
Actually, Maryland's defense was much improved and it was, by far, the most aggressive game Maryland has played this year. Passing is the area the Terps need to polish if they are to improve on their 2-2 record, the worst Maryland start under Driesell since his first (1969-1970) season, when the Terps were 2-4 after six games.
Maryland's victories have been over very weak teams, its losses to very good ones.With such a young squad, Driesell almost seemed pleased.
"I hate to lose," said Driesell. "But this was a good experience for them."