Greg Anthony sat under the scoreboard in the northeast corner of the arena, his back against the white concrete wall.
As his UNLV teammates passed by, he reached up to exchange high-fives. After 40 minutes of non-stop basketball against the No. 2 team in the nation, Anthony was tired. And sore.Arkansas football coach Jack Crowe paid Anthony a compliment and then moved on. Finally, Anthony limped to the dressing room to revel in a 112-105 victory over Arkansas.
Crowe ducked into the dressing room and praised the Rebels.
"Ability is one thing," Crowe said on his way out. "Ability and maturity are two. We're about a year away."
Anthony, fellow seniors George Ackles, Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon and junior Anderson Hunt got it done for the Rebels after they trailed by four points at halftime in Barnhill Arena. All but Ackles started on the UNLV team that won the national championship 10 months ago.
The Rebels opened the second half with a 10-point spurt, punctuated by Ackles' monster stuff. Johnson came down the lane and slammed one with emphasis and then added the free throw that made 71-61 with six minutes gone in the half.
It was still a 10-point difference when Hunt and then Johnson got easy baskets from steals. Five straight points by Hunt made it 84-69, and a stuff by Ackles, followed by a fist-clenching double pump, made it a 20-point lead.
The Rebels (20-0) had outscored Arkansas 47-23 during in the first 131/2 minutes of the second half.
"The second half, the first 17 minutes, I thought we were about as good as it can be," UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian said. "At both ends of the court. We got the ball inside where we wanted on offense. We ran the break really well. And we challenged every shot they took."
Augmon scored 31 points in 39 minutes; Hunt 26 points in 37 minutes and Johnson 25 points in 36 minutes.
Afterward, Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson said the Razorbacks lost their composure a little bit early in the second half.
"We did not get that intensity we left the floor with," Richardson said. "That is the real terrible period of the whole ball game. If we had come out and played closer, it might have been a closer ball game. The first five minutes of the second half may have been our worst five minutes in a long time. I don't know the reason."
"This year we have come out flat in the second half a couple of times," said Arkansas guard Lee Mayberry. "It really showed today. That's what turned the game around."
"I think Arkansas will be there in March," Anthony said. "They've got a great deal of talent. I think they just need some more experience in some more big games."
Tarkanian said he had never seen a game with such hype. For days, even weeks, Arkansas papers have been filled with No. 1 vs. No. 2, even while Arkansas was taking care of its Southwest Conference schedule. In fact, he said, he was walking on an access road in Fayetteville a day earlier when a couple of cars wheeled off the highway and he was asked for an autograph.
It's tough to accept a loss any time a team has had as much success as the Razorbacks have had, particularly at home, Richardson said.
"But, there's nothing to be ashamed of," he said. "And, there's a possibility down the road, if things all fall into place, there's a chance to play Vegas again.
"Other than that, let's enjoy the chance we had. Let's just settle down and play the remainder of our schedule as tough as we can and see what happens.
"As I told them, this game wouldn't have meant very much, other than bragging rights ... who possibly is No. 1. But it has nothing to do with who's going to be the national champion at this point."
Tarkanian said the difference was defense. Arkansas, a team which often puts together winning spurts off an opponent's turnovers, was on the short end of that stick. The Razorbacks suffered 23 turnovers, eight more than UNLV. It was the first time all year that the Razorbacks (23-2) had suffered more turnovers their opponent.
"Turnovers were the difference in the game," Richardson said.
"I think we laid it in a lot more than they got steals," Tarkanian said.
The other key, he said, was that Arkansas needed good outside shooting. Instead, Todd Day made 8 of 21 and Mayberry made 4 of 15. Day wound up with 26 points and Oliver Miller with 22. Ernie Murry scored 16 off the bench, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range.
"I don't think there's anybody in the country who can guard the basketball the way our kids do. I mean to stop penetration," Tarkanian said. "That's what we did in the second half; we just did not allow any dribble penetration. They wound up taking a lot of really tough shots."
He said that Hunt and Anthony stop the dribble as well as any two guards he's ever had. He said Augmon is the best forward in the country at taking away the dribble and that Johnson is only a notch behind.
"On an individual basis, we're pretty good defensively," he said.
Richardson said that UNLV is so good they can get by with only a couple of players trying to rebound. That, in turn, allows them to turn players loose on the break.
"We had to send all of our guys in to get rebounds because they had some very big guys," Day said. "Anderson Hunt didn't go and rebound one time. After the shot he would streak down the court."
Tarkanian said the Razorbacks hurt UNLV several times when Miller unleashed baseball passes for easy baskets. In the second half, he said, Hunt and Anthony dropped back on every UNLV shot.
Asked if this was a benchmark victory, Tarkanian said:
"I think it's really incredible that we can come in here and win and really, until the last three minutes, it was a pretty decisive win.
"This team has been the most remarkable group of kids I've ever been around," he said. "I've had other great teams, but they get complacent any time you get a big lead. These kids don't."
Richardson was asked how you beat Vegas?
"Play Detroit, the Lakers, one of those teams," he said. "I've only been on the college level 11 years, but they are the best team I've ever seen."
Tarkanian refused to be drawn into comparisons with great teams of the past. But, he said, "To this point, I think this is the best team I've ever coached; this is the best team UNLV has had."