It was business as usual last November at the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. media day banquet: There was plenty of whining and dining.
Nevada Las Vegas Coach Jerry Tarkanian was trying to quell rumors that the group of redshirts he had coming in this season regularly beat his regulars (who went 29-6 and lost to Georgetown in the Western regionals) in practice games last season.
"We have the potential to be a fine team, but we have a lot of question marks. We lost four of our top nine players," he complained when his team was made a unanimous choice to repeat as conference champion.
The Rebels turned out to be a pretty fine team all right--ranked No. 10 by United Press International and No. 11 by Associated Press. The Rebels are 24-3 overall and the PCAA champions again with a 17-1 conference mark.
Fresno State Coach Boyd Grant got in his share of complaining, too. The defense-oriented Grant was bemoaning the PCAA's decision to use the 45-second clock this season.
It didn't exactly change the Bulldogs' style, though. Fresno State (15-3, 20-7) still led the nation in fewest points allowed with 54.1 points per game.
UNLV and Fresno State, finalists the last two seasons, are the favorites to meet again in the championship game. The tournament begins today at the Forum with four first-round games:
2 p.m.: San Jose State (10-8, 15-12) vs. Utah State (10-8, 17-10)--The matchup features contrasting styles. San Jose State is No. 2 in the PCAA in scoring defense (67.6), and the Aggies are second in offense (83.1). Only three opponents have shot better than 50% from the floor against the Spartans, but the Aggies have shot 66% in the last two games. Utah State's Vince Washington (21.8 points a game) and Greg Grant (19.6) are the conference's Nos. 3 and 4 scorers. The Spartans have four players in double figures, led by center Matt Fleming, who is averaging just 13.2.
4 p.m.: Cal State Fullerton (11-7, 15-12) vs. UC Irvine (8-10, 13-16)--The Titans won both regular-season games (89-80 at Crawford Hall and 84-74 Saturday night at Titan Gym) but both were closer than the final scores indicated. Irvine relies on the shooting skills of center Johnny Rogers (21.9 points per game) and forward Tod Murphy (who has averaged 24 points a game and is shooting 70% from the field in his last five outings). Fullerton depends on an aggressive defense, a fast break sparked by guard Kevin Henderson (17 points a game) and the rebounding and inside scoring of Tony Neal (16 points, 12 rebounds a game).
7 p.m.: Nevada Las Vegas (17-1, 24-3) vs. Pacific (5-13, 9-18)--A month ago, Las Vegas defeated Pacific, 97-72, at Stockton. UNLV has not looked especially invincible most of the season, but the wealth of talent on his bench has allowed Tarkanian to experiment until he finds the right combinations. He has only failed to do that three times this season. The play of sophomore forward Armon Gilliam (12 points and seven rebounds a game) has been a major plus for Las Vegas, which already had PCAA Player of the Year Richie Adams (16 points, 8 rebounds) anchoring the front line. Pacific has a player to watch in Domingo Rosario, who will probably win freshman player-of-the-year honors in the PCAA.
9 p.m.: Fresno State (15-3, 20-7) vs. UC Santa Barbara (8-10, 12-15)--This may seem like a mismatch, but Coach Jerry Pimm's Gauchos have always given Fresno State problems. Santa Barbara lost to the Bulldogs by just a point (41-40) last Saturday. This is Santa Barbara's first PCAA tournament appearance since 1980. The Gauchos are led by Scott Fisher, who's averaging 15 points and eight rebounds a game. Fresno State is led by seniors Mitch Arnold (14 points, five rebounds) and Scott Barnes (13 points, eight rebounds).