SEATTLE — Nevada Las Vegas plays Iowa today in the West Regional final at the Kingdome, and it looks like a match made in the kitchen.
Iowa, oven-tested all season long by a bunch of close games, meets the Runnin' Rebels, the toast of Las Vegas and the shake-and-bake kings of college basketball. So far, anyway, they've been cooking.
At stake is a ticket to the Final Four in New Orleans and however the big roulette wheel in the sky decides the winner, the deciding factor may be heat, because this game is going to be played at a very high temperature.
This game doesn't need a scoreboard, it needs a thermometer. UNLV runs at two speeds, boil and poach, which just happens to be how Iowa plays it, too. There are only two teams left in the NCAA tournament who have won at least 30 games this season and they are going to be steam-pressing each other all over the court today.
The Rebels are 36-1 after beating Wyoming, 92-78, Friday night in a game that didn't end until nearly midnight, and the Hawkeyes are 30-4 after their 93-91 overtime victory over Oklahoma in the other West Regional semifinal.
These teams are so much alike, only their coaches know for sure how they differ. Iowa Coach Tom Davis and UNLV's Jerry Tarkanian say the press is the best way to tell them apart.
Davis favors a trapping zone defense all over the court while Tarkanian uses a man-to-man, one-on-one variety. Other than that slight variance, the two teams are very similar.
So consider the matchups. UNLV's Hammer (Armon Gilliam) against Iowa's Sir Jamalot (Gerry Wright). Press against press. Iowa's great rebounding against UNLV's so-so rebounding. Depth against depth. How do you figure it?
"It's a matter of who can keep running the longest," Iowa forward Roy Marble said. "It's obvious both teams can put points on the boards. It may come down to who can outcoach who."
There doesn't appear to be much of an edge there, either. Davis, described by forward Brad Lohaus as "one cool cookie," and Tarkanian, the towel-munching philosopher, agree that the game may actually be decided in a style that neither team plays.
"One thing that concerns me, we haven't had to run a delay game late in the ball game," Tarkanian said. "If I tried to slow it down, I don't think anyone would show up."
In the tournament so far, the Hawkeyes have only played teams that like to run as much as they do. From Texas El Paso to Oklahoma to UNLV, Iowa has gone from quick to quicker to quickest. This is a worrisome issue for Iowa.
"I don't know what to say, but it's going to be up and down the court," Marble said.
Iowa is understandably concerned about UNLV's press. Tarkanian puts 6-8 Jarvis Basnight over the ball then watches the pressure defense spring into action.
"They jump on you tough when you try to throw the ball in," Marble said. "That increases the tempo and makes it a fast-paced game."
Iowa's zone defense has cracked more than a few teams on the press this season. The Hawkeyes are good, said UNLV point guard Mark Wade, who gave them what he said was a compliment.
"The players they have are similar to our second team," Wade said.
"I'm not putting Iowa down," he said. "Our second team is just as good as our first team."
Meanwhile, the Rebels have got their own problems and they're having trouble getting shots to drop. Forward Gerald Paddio's jumper is in the deep freeze and guard Freddie Banks' three-point shot is right in there with it.
Wade said he's comfortable having Paddio around in the offense, like a piece of "Paddio" furniture.
"We're definitely going to keep getting him the ball," Wade said. "He's been one of the keys all year. I don't think we can exclude him now."
Tarkanian cut down Paddio's minutes to 15 in Friday night's victory over Wyoming. "We're very concerned, but we're going to say with what got us here," Tarkanian said. "Gerald will start and there's a good chance he will go 10 for 12. He's due."
So probably is Marble. The sophomore guard started slowly and got slower in Iowa's last-shot overtime win over Oklahoma. Marble finished with 11 points and 5 turnovers in 43 minutes.
"I can't explain it," he said. "I mean, I don't know, I didn't plan it like that. If I can get out and get running, I think I'll be OK."
Then Iowa has to stop Gilliam, something Wyoming couldn't do. Gilliam scored 38 points in 39 minutes and had 13 rebounds, seven of them offensive, in the victory over Wyoming. It's going to be left up to Lohaus and Wright to do something about Gilliam.
"If you don't stop him, you go home," Lohaus said. "If you do, you go on."
Gilliam, who also wants to go on, made 17 of 24 shots against Wyoming, while Paddio (2 of 9) and Banks (5 of 16) were struggling.
"You never know how you are going to play," Gilliam said. "You just go out, execute the offense and see what happens."
Tarkanian is going on anyway. He'll be in New Orleans for the Final Four, win or lose today. "I'm going," he said. "I just hope my team comes with me."
Gametime is 1:03 p.m., with CBS televising. . . . UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian said Iowa is more patient offensively than his team and that the Hawkeyes are much better rebounders. "That scares the heck out of me," he said. With two-point victories in his team's last two games, Iowa Coach Tom Davis said he still isn't sure if that gives the Hawkeyes an edge over UNLV, which has rarely been stretched to the limit this season. "The problem is just to get them in a close game," he said. "They've just taken people right out of the game, night after night after night. You have to be a special ballclub to do that." . . . The Iowa-UNLV winner plays either Indiana or LSU in a Final Four semifinal game at New Orleans.