It might be just a slight exaggeration, but there are reports that several Nevada-Las Vegas fans fainted a few weeks ago when the Runnin' Rebels held the ball for eight minutes against Louisiana State. UNLV holding the ball? Has Coach Jerry Tarkanian lost his mind?

"No," Tarkanian said with a laugh. "We had 42 points at halftime in another game, against Brigham Young, and won it, 66-63. Several players got in early foul trouble so we spread it out, slowed it down a little."

In the late 1970s, Tarkanian's teams scored 90 points on a slow night. The program had a slight decline the past two years, but Tarkanian has put together a team that he hopes will be of top-20 caliber by year's end.

The Rebels, with a little less running than some fans are accustomed to from a UNLV team, will visit Capital Centre today at 3:30 for a regionally televised game against Georgetown.

"I haven't changed my coaching philosophy," Tarkanian said yesterday, after putting his team through a workout at the Centre. "We're still trying to run the ball and push it up. We just don't have the shooters we have had in past years."

But the Rebels (4-2), averaging 75 points per game, have shown some inside scoring flair that wasn't seen when players like Reggie Theus, Tony Smith and Eddie Owens were exciting college basketball fans with the prototype run-and-gun game.

Sidney Green, a 6-foot-9 center/forward known as "El Cid," is averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds. And, Tarkanian said yesterday, "Sidney hasn't even proved himself yet. We want him to be more consistent."

The Rebels' smallest starter today will be 6-6, since Tarkanian's son Danny, the starting point guard, may miss the game with an injured left foot. Green should provide Georgetown freshman center Patrick Ewing with his toughest challenge of the season.

Howard's top recruit for this season, 6-8 forward Kevin Thomas, will not accompany the Bison to Towson State tonight and is uncertain whether he will return to the team or the university.

The freshman was not in uniform Wednesday and received permission from Bison Coach A.B. Williamson to return home early to Neptune, N.J., to "straighten out personal problems."

"I just need to go home and recuperate," Thomas said yesterday, when reached in his on-campus dorm room. "This first semester has just overwhelmed me a bit, between the classes, the basketball and being away from home for the first time. I'm from a big family (four brothers and one sister) and I didn't adjust to well. It was a big change from what I was used to. I'm going to go home and just think things over."

Williamson said he hopes Thomas will decide by Dec. 30, five days before Howard's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opener. "I just told him to come back after Christmas and make the proper decision for him," Williamson said. We didn't discuss basketball, just how he's doing as a person."

The University of the District of Columbia's Firebird mascot was stolen Thursday night. Robert McNeil, who wears the bird suit, returned to his car and found only the head of the uniform remaining. UDC's athletic department is offering $100, "no questions asked," to whoever returns the suit. A spokesman said yesterday it will cost $1,000 to replace it.