The University of Nevada-Las Vegas specializes in tall and lean players who never stop running and shoot the 25-foot jumper without hesitation.
Virginia countered tonight with jump-shooting Jeff Lamp and tall, tall Ralph Sampson and pummeled the Runnin' Rebels, 90-71, in a National Invitation Tournament semifinal game at Madison Square Garden.
Darryl Mitchell's two free throws with 14 seconds to play lifted Minnesota over Big Ten rival Illinois, 65-63, in the other semifinal.
Virginia (23-10) will face Minnesota (21-10) for the title Wednesday night at 9. UNLV (23-8) plays Illinois (21-13) in the 7 p.m. consolation.
Virginia burst from an 35-35 tie at intermission and never was headed in handing the Runnin' Rebels their worst defeat of the season. Cavalier guard Lamp led the assault with 19 of his 30 points. The 6-foot-5 junior had plenty of help as 7-4 freshman center Sampson toyed with the frustrated Las Vegas defenders, scoring 26 points and grabbing 15 rebounds.
"We just came back and played more aggressive in the second half,''' said Sampson, whose inside play wrecked Las Vegas' hopes of coming back. "I asserted myself more in the half."
As he had done at the beginning of the game, Sampson opened the second half with a flourish. He scored seven of his team's first nine points to send Virginia out to a 44-39 lead. Lamp then took over. Despite heavy pressure from Richard Box, Lamp worked his way free and started hitting from everwhere. He scored on a bank shot and was fouled for a three-point play, hit a 16-footer from the corner and rammed in a 12-foot shot after posting the agile Box on the baseline.
Las Vegas, which never stopped running, suddenly showed signs of panic. The 22-footers stopped falling and the inside offensive strength the Rebels demonstrated in the first half was nullified by Sampson. Getting only one shot now, the Rebels were in serious trouble.
"We couldn't stop Lamp," said Coach Jerry Tarkanian. "We started the game pressuring Sampson from the back. When we saw that didn't work, we went to full-court pressure. But as the game wore on, the pressure got softer."
And as the Rebel guards tired, the Cavaliers began to work their way for one easy shot after another. Sampson rolled inside for a hook over Las Vegas' 6-8 strongman Michael Johnson, Terry Gates hit a short jumper and Jeff Jones made one of two free throws and boom, Virginia led, 66-51, with 7:49 to play.
Las Vegas, with Michael Burns (20 points), Larry Anderson and Box hitting, made a run at the Cavs in the final seven minutes.
A 7-0 spurt narrowed the Cavalier lead to 66-58 and the Virginia fans in the crowd of 11,223 became nervous. Any team with players who shoot from the hip and play the hustling, scrambling defense of the Rebels never can be counted out.
But, as quick as one could say Vegas, Virginia outscored the Rebels, 11-4, to cruise ahead, 77-62, with just over three minutes on the clock.
Sampson made sure Las Vegas got one shot while Lamp scored on a dunk and a breakaway. Lee Raker hit two jumpers and Gates had a three-point play to stem the Rebels' surge.
"In the NIT, we've been getting the ball to the player who has been hot," said lamp, who made 14 of 22 shots.
Burns, who was doing his version of boogie away from Sampson, somehow made a basket and got a three-point play out of the deal to cut the score to 12 points at the 3:19 mark. But that was the Running Rebels final gasp.
Sampson went over the top for the basket, his 15th and 16th points of the half, and Lamp banged in two straight baskets and the rebels were history.
Virginia made 62.5 percent of its shots after intermission. Las Vegas made only 32 of 79 for the game, 41 percent. Sampson, with 15, helped the Cavs outrebound the rebels, 42-38. Sampson also had four blocks.
In the first game, Minnesota led by as many as 11 points in the first half before allowing the Eddie Johnson and Mark Smith-led Fighting Illini to gain a 44-44 tie early in the second half.
Neither team seemed capable of winning from that point on. A follow-up shot by the Gophers' 7-2 center, Randy Breuer, who scored 13 straight points in one stretch that half, gave Minnesota a 50-47 lead with 10:54 to play. Minnesota did not score again from the field, but answered each Illini basket with a pair of free throws.
With the score deadlocked at 63 with 34 seconds remaining, Minnesota played for one shot. Mark Hall missed badly, but Mitchell outmuscled two Illini for the ball and was fouled. The 6-4 guard sank both free throws. Illinois' Rob Judson missed a desperation 20-footer at the buzzer.