The University of Nevada-Las Vegas got its unlikely reprieve last week, but life promises to be tough this season for most of the other schools saddled with NCAA sanctions. And perhaps nowhere will it be tougher than at Illinois, where Coach Lou Henson and his players already are bemoaning their fates just a month into a three-year probation imposed this fall for widespread rules violations.

This looked to be an unusually trying season for the Illini even before the sanctions were announced. All five starters from last season -- including NBA draft choices Kendall Gill, Marcus Liberty and Stephen Bardo -- are gone, and Henson lost his top two substitutes to a transfer and a suspension.

But, said junior forward Andy Kaufmann, the NCAA's penalties "hung a cloud over us that you can't imagine until you live through it. . . . You try to persevere, but there's no light at the end of the tunnel."

Illinois is 4-3 after last night's game at Penn State, and its victories came against the American University of Puerto Rico, Old Dominion, Eastern Illinois and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The other losses were to Nebraska (by 27 points, the school's worst defeat in 14 years) and Illinois-Chicago.

"It's eye-opening to get beaten by those hyphenated schools," Kaufmann said. The Illinois-Chicago loss was forgivable, given that the Flames beat Michigan State a year ago. But the Wisconsin-Milwaukee win Monday at Champaign was an embarrassing one: Illinois allowed an Assembly Hall-record 50 points to guard Von McDade and needed two overtimes to gain a 120-116 decision.

Afterward, Kaufmann -- who scored 46 points in the game -- said that winning was "the biggest sense of relief I've ever had in sports."

Said Henson, whose 10 straight winning seasons in Big Ten play have been forged with an affinity for defense: "As far as I'm concerned, it was a nightmare. I just don't understand."

One-on-One for the Record

McDade failed to display much of a sense of history in the aftermath of his torching of the Illini.

Told he had broken the scoring record of 48 points set in 1979 by Indiana's Mike Woodson (an 11-year NBA veteran who was released by the Houston Rockets Tuesday), McDade replied: "Is he dead? Ask him if he wants to play me one-on-one." . . .

The week's grousing award goes to Michigan State Coach Jud Heathcote, who followed the Spartans' 98-85 upset loss to Bowling Green (led by 24 points from former Northwestern High guard Clinton Venable) by saying: "I told the players we were out-officiated, outplayed, outworked and outhustled, in that order."

TV Dinners Anyone?

Kentucky's ban from live television is over, but the Wildcats still are on probation and they can't return to the NCAA tournament until next season. But things are looking up for second-year coach Rick Pitino. Kentucky returned to the Associated Press top 25 for the first time since the end of the 1987-88 regular season, and Pitino has rectified his craving for better Italian food in Lexington in a most resourceful manner -- this weekend he's opening his own restaurant, to be called "Bravo Pitino."

Unsettling Scores

The nation's most freewheeling team may be Division II Lock Haven (Pa.); the Bald Eagles (4-1) have averaged 118.8 points per game and are hoisting 48.6 three-point attempts per outing, including one game in which they tried 62 three-pointers.

Lock Haven is even putting to shame Loyola Marymount, which played to a 188-177 score in its preseason intrasquad scrimmage but has averaged only 114.5 points in its first six games. The Lions, 2-4 under new coach Jay Hillock, are shooting 33 percent from three-point range, including a four-for-28 performance Sunday in a 149-98 loss to UCLA.

The Bruins, meanwhile, were producing 113 points per game entering last night and had broken the school's single-game scoring record twice, but all the fireworks have come without the blessing of Coach Jim Harrick -- who finally concluded after the Loyola Marymount game that "this isn't basketball, and I don't like it one bit." . . .

Has anarchy taken hold in Chapel Hill, N.C.? Last year, North Carolina Coach Dean Smith allowed freshman Matt Wenstrom to be the first Tar Heels player to be listed as 7 feet tall. This season, North Carolina has three official 7-footers: Wenstrom, redshirt freshman Kevin Salvadori and freshman Eric Montross.

Montross has become the first Tar Heels player to wear No. 00 on his uniform. And there are no North Carolina natives on the team's roster.

However, freshman forward Brian Reese is without the earring he wore during at Tolentine High School in the Bronx.