Nevada Las Vegas Coach Jerry Tarkanian said he thought the clock was turning back on him and on his team in the closing minutes of a second-round NCAA tournament game against Maryland Sunday afternoon at the Long Beach Arena.
In an entertaining, physical game with dramatic surges by each team, the Rebels had apparently outlasted the Terrapins.
Las Vegas led, 61-54, and forward Armon Gilliam was going to the free-throw line with only 1:45 remaining. But Gilliam missed on the front end of his one-and-one attempt, and it became contagious as guard Mark Wade then blew two chances to put the Terps away by missing from the line.
But Vegas maintained its composure and went on to win, 70-64, although Len Bias, Maryland's All-American forward, came close to beating the Rebels all by himself.
Bias, harassed by a smothering Las Vegas zone defense in the first half, scored 23 points in the second half and finished with 31.
It wasn't enough, though, as Las Vegas advanced to the West Regional semifinals in Houston next Thursday. The Rebels will play Auburn, which didn't break much of a sweat in beating St. John's in the other second-round game Sunday.
"We finally got over the hump," Tarkanian said. "When we started missing those one-and-ones, I thought back to our NCAA game with North Carolina State in 1983 when we made only 2 of 7 free throws near the end.
"We led them for 39 minutes and 57 seconds and still lost."
North Carolina State survived that scare and others in the tournament and went on to win the national championship.
Tarkanian's team was also nudged out of the tournament last year, losing to Kentucky, 64-61, in a game that wasn't decided until the closing seconds.
But this year, Las Vegas is still alive and is the only Western team left in the postseason tournament.
The Runnin' Rebels, now 32-4, have the image of a fast-breaking team that doesn't pay much attention to defense. It's a fallacious rap. The Rebels, who are normally in a man-to-man defensive alignment, bothered Maryland with a strong 3-2 zone and then, using a pressing man-to-man, recovered from a stunning run by the Terps at the outset of the second half.
Las Vegas led, 33-27, at halftime, but Maryland ran off 14 unanswered points to move ahead, 41-33, in the first five minutes of the second half.
It could have been a psychological turnaround for Maryland (19-14), but Las Vegas had a countering run.
The Rebels went on a 13-0 blitz to regain the lead and never relinquished it again, although they staggered a bit by missing those free throws at the end.
Las Vegas received an outstanding game from forward Anthony Jones, who got 25 points, and from Gilliam, who finished with 18 points and a game high 14 rebounds.
Tarkanian says his team hasn't been all that proficient at rebounding this season, but the Rebels outrebounded the Terps, 38-32, and had a commanding margin of 17-8 on the offensive boards.
"How do you figure it?" Tarkanian said. "We've been outrebounded by most of the PCAA teams this season, and now we outrebound Maryland.
"Another big key for us was the fact that we had only four turnovers. That's outstanding when you finish playing a 40-minute game. Over the past 10 or 12 games, we've averaged just seven or eight turnovers a game--and that's the best ballhandling by any team I've ever had.
"I think the major reason for that is that we aren't running as much and are playing intelligent basketball."
Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell, whose Terps finished sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference during the regular season, didn't apologize for his team. There was no need for it.
"Our team played as well as it can play," he said. "Nobody expected us to come as far as we did. I feel we are just as good as they are, but they were the better team today."
Nevada Las Vegas beat Maryland, 63-62, in overtime last December, but both teams have improved since that encounter.
Tarkanian said that if he had to describe the perfect build and playing ability for a 6-foot 8-inch forward, Bias would fit the description.
Bias was frustrated by Las Vegas' zone defense in the first half, making only 4 of 11 shots and not even going to the free-throw line.
But when the game was on the line, Bias was at his best.
While Gilliam and Wade were missing on their one-and-one attempts, Bias was bringing his team back.
He took a lob pass for a dunk to cut Las Vegas' lead to 61-56 with 1:33 left. Then he hit a baseline jumper with 1:18 to play to draw his team within three points of the Rebels.
After Las Vegas center Eldrige Hudson scored on a layin, Bias pumped in two foul shots with 50 seconds to play. He then converted both ends of a one-and-one with 40 seconds left, and Maryland trailed by only one point.
Jones then broke the free-throw drought for Las Vegas by making a pair from the line, and Gilliam pulled down a key rebound at the other end and was fouled. Gilliam made two free throws with 22 seconds to play, and Las Vegas had blunted the Terp comeback.