The NCAA, which in November overturned an earlier decision to ban the University of Nevada Las Vegas from the 1990-91 NCAA Basketball Tournament as punishment for 1977 crimes, should overturn its turnover.

Forget about protracted justice. I'm talking about crime prevention. Allowing the defending national champion Runnin' Rebels to play in this year's NCAA tournament is like letting Mike Tyson enter the Golden Gloves.Jerry West, the Lakers GM with a jeweler's eye for talent, attended last week's game between Cal-Santa Barbara and UNLV. However, West was not scouting players for the next NBA draft. He was scouting the Rebels as a possible future opponent.

After UNLV won the NCAA title last spring, All-Americans Stacey Augmon and Larry Johnson considered skipping their senior seasons to turn pro. Both decided to return, giving UNLV a team that belongs in the NBA playoffs.

UNLV is simply too SLAM good for the college ranks. They outdunked the Gauchos, 11-1. All told, six Rebs rattled the UCSB Thunderdome rims, including the tiniest starter, point guard Anderson Hunt, who got into the act with a two-handed-in-your-face-hang-on-the-rim job. The big fellas' jams were less tame.

During time outs, you figure coach Jerry Tarkanian doesn't bother diagraming plays. He just writes "Dunk" on the blackboard.

If the NCAA really wants to punish these guys, instead of postponing UNLV's NCAA Tournament ban to the 1991-92 season, it should reinstate the dunking ban. That would really tick off the Rebels.

Not that it would hurt their game much. Unanimously No. 1 in the polls, this team can beat you from downtown, too. Hunt is an excellent 3-point shooter.

Offensively, the Rebels are impressive. Defensively they are oppressive.

Dribbling the ball across the half-court line is like entering a lion's den.

"Their `Amoeba' zone defense is tenacious," UCSB forward Bob Erbst said.

"Amoeba" is a fitting name because at times it seems like Rebel players divide in two and are playing 10-on-5. And they hawk the ball like Patriot missiles going after Scuds. It's hard to get any shot off against UNLV's swarming defense, much less a good shot.

To give you an idea, no opponent has shot 50 percent this season. In fact, UNLV has held foes to 38 percent shooting and forced slightly more than 20 turnovers per game.

UNLV games are like Road Runner versus Wile E. Coyote cartoons. Lots of teams have a couple of quicksilver players. UNLV has a busload. Even the team manager has wings on his feet.

The scary thing is that the team that ran circles around UCSB was the Strollin' Rebels.

"We weren't real quick tonight," Tarkanian said, sincerely.

Told of Tark's remark, Gaucho forward Bob Erbst replied: "If that isn't quick, I'd hate to see quick."

When UCSB pulled to within 52-44 in the second half, the Rebs lived up to their nickname while the official scorer literally burned out her typewriter trying to keep pace.

"We were close and then dunk, dunk, dunk, dunk, dunk," said Erbst.

"They feed off that," added guard Ray Kelly.

Indeed, The Runnin' Rebels, now 15-0 and winners of 26 in a row dating back to last season, are devouring every team they play. They have become the whopper of the college basketball food chain. They belong in a bigger ocean.

With four starters back from last year's team that buried Duke by 30 points in the NCAA final, UNLV's average winning margin this year is just under 30 points. They won one game by 51 points and another by 50.

Last Saturday, Louisville came the closest against UNLV, losing by 12 after trailing by 30 with eight minutes left. "Tark the Shark" should trade his trademark chew towel in for a washcloth - the games are all over by halftime.

And UNLV is doing this without its top two draft picks, so to speak. Ed O'Bannon and Shon Tarver verbally committed to UNLV but then opted for UCLA when the Rebels became the target of another NCAA investigation.

The Rebels are so very good, they are hounded for autographs everywhere they go. Fans act like they're the Celtics or Pistons or Lakers. Next year, a lot of them will be.

"That's the best team I've ever seen," Erbst says. "I don't see anybody beating them."

"Can the Rebels be beaten?" Shark is asked. He grins but gives no reply.

The answer, of course, is "Yes, the Rebels are beatable." But likely only by a team that plays in Michael Jordan's league.

(Woody Woodburn is a columnist for the Star-Free Press in Ventura, Calif.)