MONDAY NIGHT, WHILE University of Utah basketball coach Rick Majerus was already barricaded inside a hotel room in Seattle, ordering room service and studying game films well past midnight, University of Nevada-Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian was eating Italian food at a restaurant owned by one of his good friends on the Las Vegas Strip, and then taking in the Mike Tyson-Donovan Ruddock heavyweight fight at a hotel owned by another one of his good friends on the Las Vegas Strip.
It isn't difficult to tell which coach's team is favored in Thursday's NCAA tournament third-round game in Seattle.It doesn't take a genius to realize that the odds aren't even.
"I hear the line's 19," said Freddy Glusman, the owner of Piero's Restaurant in Las Vegas, a favorite hangout of Tarkanian's. Glusman was speaking by telephone Monday afternoon. He said Tarkanian was coming by later, and that after dinner they'd be going down the Strip to Super Rebel Booster Steve Wynn's Mirage Hotel to see the Tyson fight. At 5-to-1, Tyson was a heavy favorite; almost as heavy as Tarkanian's Runnin' Rebels.
Glusman and Tarkanian have been friends for a long time; longer even than the Rebels' winning streak, which is now at 43 after the Rebels got their first-in-school-history win over Georgetown Sunday in the NCAA second-round at Tucson. Glusman said Tark comes by Piero's - "The Best Italian in town" - for dinner about four times a week.
"Actually we're the best Italian in America," said Glusman, "but you don't need to print that because we've got plenty of business."
Apparently a lot of people like to eat where Tarkanian eats.
Then there's Majerus, an avid eater himself, who's getting tired of room service but isn't getting tired of getting to order it. The first thing you learn in the NCAA tournament is that all games are road games. When you're not tipping bellhops, then you know it's over.
No sooner had the Utes won their second-round game in Tucson - in double overtime over Michigan State - than they flew to Salt Lake, high-fived half the city, showered, changed, and got on a plane for Seattle, site of Round 3.
UNLV spent Monday back home in Vegas, celebrating the Georgetown win.
"Since we'd never beaten Georgetown, it got us excited," said a spokesman in the sports information office. "So far there hasn't been a lot of talk about Utah. But, then, there's not a lot of talk about anybody by this team. It's a veteran team. They've played together so many years now. It's more like an NBA team."
Glusman said that after the Georgetown game, an eight-point UNLV win, Rebels fans were breathing a lot easier.
"I was there in Tucson, on the first row," said Glusman. "I wasn't confident at all. That was a scary game. I was nervous. I'm glad it's over. I saw Utah play, and that's a very good team. But I don't think they'll give us much to worry about."
Glusman said he was sitting next to Tarkanian in Tucson during the Utah-Michigan State game.
"The coach told me, yeah, he'd like Utah to win," said Glusman. "We were all rooting for Utah. They're kinda like the West too, right?"
By Tuesday night, the Rebels were scheduled to be joining the Utes in Seattle; and by Wednesday night, UNLV's fans will be in place as well. More than 6,000 are expected to make the trip. They're planning on staying till Sunday, and then they'll begin worrying about how to get another week off work so they can go to the Final Four in Indianapolis.
As for the Utes' fans, a number significantly less than 6,000 is expected in the Kingdome Thursday - not because Utah has any less of a broad base fan support than the Rebels, but because there has been less time to plan for the possibility of a game at this height, and because even rabid fans can read between the lines of a 19-point spread.
The lone Ute charter that is scheduled to fly from Salt Lake to Seattle Wednesday night had a contingency itinerary: If Utah loses, the plane returns Friday morning at 11. If Utah wins, the plane returns Sunday morning at 11.
Vegas' charters reportedly had no such contingency.
In the meantime, Majerus will remain confined to his quarters in the Seattle Hilton, acting like the underdog coach; and Tarkanian, well fed and fresh from the fight at the Mirage, will continue to act out his role as the favored coach.
"I'll tell you this, if Tark loses, it's not going to be because he went to the fight," said Majerus from his hotel room Monday night, taking a short break from the action on the VCR. "I can guarantee you we're going to play hard. I can also guarantee you Vegas is going to play hard."
That's during the game. Before the game, it's easy to tell the two opponents apart. The underdogs are the guys who checked in early, and who are staying up late. When the odds aren't even, what other choice do you have?