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Las Vegas Likely to Ring Out Palmer Era Today

March 05, 1987|DICK WAGNER | Times Staff Writer

Ron Palmer's career as basketball coach at Cal State Long Beach has one game left, unless he can produce a miracle.

The 49ers play Nevada Las Vegas in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. tournament at 9 tonight in the Forum.

A miracle is in order because the Runnin' Rebels are the No. 1 team in the nation. They are 30-1 overall and went 18-0 during the PCAA regular season.

The 49ers are 12-18 and have lost seven straight games. They have lost to Las Vegas twice this season, 104-74 and 86-66.

Still, Palmer is eager to play this game.

It was his goal, long before this season turned sour, to make the tournament, to which eight of the 10 teams qualify. The goal was accomplished, although not in the way Palmer had planned.

The 49ers, who once were 5-1 and in second place, fell to 7-11 and eighth. No team wants to finish eighth because that means an opening-round game against the first-place team, which is always Las Vegas. So you could say that the 49ers deserve to play Las Vegas and be put out of their misery quickly.

"We're going to play the game," Palmer said Monday after he announced his resignation. "The kids may be inspired. And if we can execute like we did Saturday (against Cal State Fullerton), maybe it can be a game."

Although the 49ers lost to Fullerton, 72-67, they made a big comeback in the second half, playing as they hadn't for weeks. And they did it without Morlon Wiley, their leading scorer, who was suspended by Palmer for disciplinary reasons.

Junior guard Billy Walker ran the 49ers in Wiley's absence and had 12 assists.

Freshman Rudy Harvey, who specializes in powerful dunk shots, scored 21 points, his season high, and junior center DeAnthony Langston scored 16.

"I'm going out with a fight," said the 6-foot-10 Langston, who has scored 34 points in his last two games.

But Langston, like all of the 49ers, has been inconsistent. Against Las Vegas on Feb. 19, he opened the game with a blocked shot, then blew a layup. He finished the game without a point.

Shooting--from all points on the court--has been a mystery to the 49ers, who are hitting only 42.5% of their shots from the field.

Tony Ronzone, a 49er guard shooting only 35%, offered an explanation: "When you lose, you force a lot of shots."

By contrast, Las Vegas makes 50% of its shots. The 49ers have no one to match baskets with Armon Gilliam and Freddie Banks, UNLV's top scorers. Gilliam averages 24 points a game and Banks averages 21. Langston leads the 49ers but averages only 10.3.

Another 49er looking forward to the game is John Hatten, the 6-9, 255-pound forward-center who has played well in both UNLV games. He had 20 points and 13 rebounds the last time the teams met.

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