Jerry Tarkanian died on Wednesday. OK, he was a tad controversial, but his UNLV teams were wonderful to watch compete. This was particularly true on April 2, 1990, when UNLV (and Tark) won its lone NCAA title. It was a privilege to write this for the Star Tribune:
DENVER -- The folks in Las Vegas were right all along. The Big Year was here.
The Rebels of Nevada-Las Vegas won the national championship on Monday night with a performance that left the 18,000 witnesses in McNichols Arena stunned, including Michael Krzyzewski of Durham, N.C.
"There is a difference between not playing well and them not letting you play well," Krzyzewski said. "This was one of the great performances I've seen on defense."
This might have been the greatest performance anyone has seen on defense.
Krzyzewski had the misfortune of coaching the Duke Blue Devils in Monday night's national championship game. The result might have been the same if he was coaching the Boston Celtics on this night.
UNLV, a two-point favorite, went after Duke with a ferocity that made the Blue Devils' seven McDonald's Prep All-Americans look as though they belonged behind the counter bagging Big Macs, not playing for the championship of college basketball.
"I woke up this morning and thought we would play so well and win," Duke's Alaa Abdelnaby said. "To have them totally dominate . . . I feel terrible."
For UNLV, the game went from domination to destruction during a 200-second stretch early in the second half. Duke had cut the lead to 57-47 with 16:24 left.
"I thought we had a chance," Duke's Phil Henderson said. "I thought we were ready to change things around."
Things changed, more dramatically than anyone could have imagined. UNLV scored 18 consecutive points, 12 by Anderson Hunt, UNLV's 6-1 package of lightning.
"It's a good feeling to look up and see you are ahead by 28," UNLV's Greg Anthony said.
It was time for Lois Tarkanian, the coach's wife, to put away her oversized string of rosary beads. It was time for the rowdy delegation of Las Vegas fans to change their chant from "Reb-uuuls" to "The Big
Year is Here."
As part of the Rebels' ticket-selling campaign, there were billboards around town proclaiming that slogan last fall: The Big Year is Here.
The front of the UNLV yearbook and press guide had a picture of Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon cradling basketballs, with the slogan in huge letters: The Big Year is Here.
"That wasn't my idea," coach Jerry Tarkanian said. "I never go into a season thinking we're going to win the national championship. I just felt like we were going to have a good team."
Tark the Shark has had nothing but good teams in his 22 seasons of coaching NCAA Division I basketball - five at Long Beach State, 17 at UNLV. Tark knew what he was doing when he signed off on that slogan. He knew that once the Rebels brought in Johnson from Texas' Midland Junior College the pieces were there for a national championship.
The Big Year ended last night with a record 103-73 victory. What it was, more than anything, was astounding.
In Saturday's semifinals, Arkansas - with quickness, depth and pressure defense - had promised to put the Blue Devils through "40 minutes of hell."
Duke spent much of the 40 minutes beating the Razorbacks down the floor, shooting layups and making Arkansas' pressure look ridiculous.
"Our strength this year has been the ability of our big men to beat the other team's big men down the floor," Tarkanian had said Sunday. "I don't know if we can do that against Duke. They got down the
floor so well against Arkansas."
Tarkanian should have winked when he said that. By the end of that 18-0 run, Krzyzewski had called two futile timeouts, imploring his players to get back on defense.
Forget it. The Blue Devils were cooked.
Every time they fired up a flat, hurried shot against UNLV's relentless defense, Johnson would rebound, fire an outlet pass and the Rebels would be streaking down on the floor on three-on-one fast breaks.
The guy Duke absolutely could not keep track of was Hunt, a former cross country runner at Southwestern High in Detroit. "Our coach, Perry Watson, made us go out for cross country," Hunt said. "He wanted us to be able to run all night."
Hunt's cross country career ended three years ago, but he still can run all night. "Hunt was fantastic," Krzyzewski said. "Our kids were huffing and puffing. He never looked tired."
Hunt scored 29 points and was named the Final Four's MVP. Hunt, Johnson and Augmon made up 60 percent of the all-tournament team.
This wasn't an all-tournament performance by the Rebels. It was an all-time performance.