Top-ranked UNLV may not hold a grudge, but the Rebels do know how to rekindle a memory.
The defending national champions cleared the final major hurdle in their bid to become the first team since 1979 to go undefeated in the regular season with an 86-74 win Monday over No. 11 New Mexico State.The win stretched UNLV's winning streak to 37 straight, ended New Mexico State's homecourt winning string at 29 straight and was the product, said UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, of some last-minute replays of New Mexico State's 83-82 win over the Rebels last year in Las Cruces.
"It really helped to have ESPN show highlights over and over today of last year's game," said Tarkanian. "The kids stayed in their rooms and watched them all day long."
Stacey Augmon led UNLV with 24 points, Larry Johnson added 22 and Anderson Hunt 19.
NMSU was led by Randy Brown with 22 and Reggie Jordan with 20.
The Rebels delivered an early message that there would be no repeat of last year. With Larry Johnson getting five of the Rebels' eight first-half slam dunks over the Aggies' pressure defense, UNLV doused every NMSU rally to improve their record to 26-0, 17-0 in the Big West Conference.
"This is as tough an environment as there is in which to play," said Tarkanian. "We started very well and played awfully well against a zone (defense) that I think is the toughest one in the country."
Tarkanian shrugged off all reference to his team being on the threshold of matching Indiana State's undefeated season of 1979. But he conceded it was tough to find a way to improve major college basketball's most prolific unit.
"This is a pretty good team, one that doesn't have too many weaknesses," he said.
New Mexico State coach Neil McCarthy, whose team now has lost twice to the Rebels by identical scores, agreed.
"They're just an awesome team. They can beat you in so many ways," said McCarthy. "You almost have to play a flawless game to beat Vegas."
The Rebels need only to beat Fullerton State next week to become the first team since the Larry Bird-led Indiana State Sycamores to go through the regular season undefeated.
New Mexico State (21-4, 13-3) played well enough to stay close through most of the game but could never overcome the Rebels' early damage.
"I thought the way they started was incredible," McCarthy said of the Rebels' eight first half dunks, six of them by Johnson.
The Aggies, who upset UNLV last season on a last-second bank shot by Keith Hill, took their only lead of the game at 5-2 on a 3-pointer by William Benjamin with 18:52 left in the first half.
The Rebels answered with consecutive 3-pointers by Hunt. UNLV punctuated that spurt minutes later when Johnson hit a one-handed slam off a fastbreak, followed with a two-handed jam and center George Ackles added another slam off an offensive rebound.
Greg Anthony followed with a 12-footer and Johnson got another slam to make it 27-13 with 10:54 left in the first half.
The Aggies hung close behind the penetrating drives of point guard Randy Brown, who scored 11 first-half points. The Rebels again came close to breaking it open with a 9-0 run for a 46-30 lead with 2:33 left in the opening half, but NMSU scored the final seven points of the half to narrow the deficit to 46-37 at halftime.
A layup by Reggie Jordan, a Brown layup and a goal tending basket by Jordan made it 51-43 Rebels with 17:00 left. The Aggies were still within 56-48 two minutes later, but UNLV then ran off eight straight points. Anthony and Augmon connected on 3-pointers and Anthony added a pair of free throws for a 64-48 advantage with 13:49 left.