FAYETTEVILLE, ARK., FEB. 10 -- The rest of college basketball might have lost its final shred of hope today, for second-ranked Arkansas was dispatched with only slightly more sweat gathering on the Nevada-Las Vegas brow than the Cal-Irvines of the world normally can elicit.
Officially, UNLV beat the Razorbacks by the relatively modest margin of 112-105, but the jaw-dropping display of suffocating defense and quick-strike offensive swoops by the top-ranked Runnin' Rebels this afternoon at packed-to-the-rafters Barnhill Arena left little doubt that the gap between No. 1 and No. 2 is a considerable one.
UNLV, in improving to 20-0 and extending its school-record winning streak to 31 games, overcame its first halftime deficit of the season -- a 50-46 Arkansas advantage -- by outscoring the Razorbacks, 52-25, in the initial 13:37 of the second half en route to a 98-75 lead.
The Rebels are aiming for a place in history, and they played basketball for the ages during that stretch, using their half-court defensive pressure to remove Arkansas from its offense entirely and getting 17 dunks or layups from their revved-up attack to take control.
"I never thought anyone could do that to us, especially not on our own court," Razorbacks forward Todd Day said.
For the game, UNLV shot 56 percent from the field and had 29 jams or layins among its 40 field goals. The Rebels got uncontested shots by beating Arkansas downcourt in transition and by pounding the ball inside when they were forced to slow down the action, and their deft ball movement produced 28 assists and 42 free throw opportunities (to 23 for the Razorbacks).
Forward Stacey Augmon sliced his way through the Arkansas defense for a season-high 31 points on 11-for-18 shooting, and his sticky defense held Day to eight-for-21 misfiring. Larry Johnson added 25 points and 14 rebounds for UNLV, while guard Anderson Hunt provided 26 points and center George Ackles 17 points and nine rebounds.
Day had 26 points to lead the Razorbacks (23-2), who had a 20-game winning streak snapped and lost for just the second time in their last 35 games (and the 20th time in 17 seasons) at Barnhill.
Junior center Oliver Miller -- who made 10 of 14 field goals and finished with 22 points, 14 rebounds, 6 blocked shots and 6 assists in 33 minutes -- proved to be a force inside, and reserve guard Ernie Murry had 16 points and four of Arkansas' 10 three-pointers.
But the Razorbacks were undone by their 23 turnovers, with Day and usually steady point guard Lee Mayberry being charged with seven apiece. "That's the game right there," Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson said. "They forced us to turn the ball over, and they made easy baskets off our turnovers.
"If we hold on to the ball, we can play with them. . . . But the margin for error is so small against UNLV. If you make a mistake, any mistake, they pounce on you. If anyone's going to beat them this year, it'll take someone having a very, very good day while Vegas has a poor-to-mediocre one."
There was a brief flaring of tempers late in the game, as both Johnson and Day were ejected with 2 1/2 minutes remaining after being charged with flagrant technical fouls for an altercation in which elbows and punches were thrown (although none came close to landing).
Day missed a three-pointer, then rushed in and fouled Johnson after the UNLV forward grabbed the rebound. Johnson shoved Day, who reacted with a swipe at Johnson's head before the two were separated. Both players dismissed the incident afterward, and referee Jim Burr stressed that "neither. . . . . was ejected for fighting."
Said Johnson: "It was no big deal. I think we even shook hands after the game. . . . I mean, if I had known I was going to get ejected for that, I would've thrown a punch."
Mostly, though, it was a day for marveling at UNLV's proficiency. Each advantage Arkansas seemingly possessed was nullified. Rebels Coach Jerry Tarkanian said beforehand that the Razorbacks are one of the few teams in the nation quicker than his club, yet it was UNLV that raced up and down the court more efficiently and clamped on the defensive traps more aggressively.
Barnhill was as raucous as ever, with the record 9,640 who were crammed inside creating a deafening roar even an hour before tip-off. But by midway through the second half, the crowd was all but silent, and Johnson was blowing kisses to selected taunters.
"They're a great team, with great talent and great maturity," Miller said. "They belong in the NBA. I still think they're capable of getting beaten, but we just couldn't get it done today."
The Razorbacks stayed in contention for a while, as four three-pointers in the final 4 1/2 minutes before intermission gave Arkansas its four-point lead after a back-and-forth first half in which Arkansas led by six points, UNLV by five.
Said Augmon: "We showed we're a pretty good team. Maybe even a little bit better than that." NEVADA-LAS VEGAS (112)
Johnson 10-15 5-7 25, Augmon 11-18 9-10 31, Ackles 6-11 5-7 17, Hunt 9-19 5-6 26, Anthony 3-6 2-4 8, Spencer 1-2 0-0 2, Gray 0-1 1-4 1, Bice 0-0 2-4 2. Totals 40-72 29-42 112.ARKANSAS (105)
Day 8-21 6-6 26, Morris 1-4 4-4 6, Miller 10-14 2-5 22, Bowers 3-5 1-1 8, Mayberry 4-15 2-2 11, Murry 6-9 0-0 16, Wallace 2-5 0-0 4, Huery 4-5 4-4 12, Fletcher 0-1 0-1 0. Totals 38-79 19-23 105.
Halftime: Arkansas, 50-46.
Three-point goals: UNLV 3-11 (Hunt 3-8, Augmon 0-1, Anthony 0-2), Arkansas 10-27 (Murry 4-7, Day 4-10, Bowers 1-2, Mayberry 1-7, Miller 0-1). Fouled out: Bowers. Rebounds: UNLV 38 (Johnson 14), Arkansas 41 (Miller 14). Assists: UNLV 28 (Anthony 10), Arkansas 21 (Mayberry 9). Total fouls: UNLV 19, Arkansas 25. Technicals: Day (ejected), Johnson (ejected). Attendance: 9,640.