SEATTLE — There is a place that Nevada Las Vegas turns to when the Rebels need help. It exists somewhere up high, the place where three-point shots fly.
As it turns out, there may be an even higher authority.
"I think the man upstairs must want us to win, because I don't know how we pull some of these games out," UNLV's Jarvis Basnight said.
The Rebels, a team of destination, found their way to New Orleans Sunday. The stepchild of the NCAA, the No. 1-ranked Rebels are going to the Final Four for the first time in 10 years.
The Rebels, who will play Indiana in next Saturday's second game, came from 18 points down in the second half to defeat Iowa, 84-81, in the final of the West Regional before 22,914 in the Kingdome.
"It was a miracle how we came back," UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian said. Or something close to it.
Even for UNLV, it was hardly short of sensational, considering that the strong and talented Hawkeyes had free-stroked their way to a 58-42 lead at the half and even extended it to 62-44 two minutes into the second half.
But some changes were already being made. At halftime, some of the Rebel players talked Tarkanian into changing their defense. Instead of switching assignments when they encountered screens, the Rebels wanted to stick with their man and fight through the screens.
"Everybody said, 'Coach, forget the switching. It's not working,' " Rebel forward Eldridge Hudson said. "That's the thing about Coach Tarkanian. He listens to his players. He doesn't say 'Shut up.' "
He doesn't say "stop shooting" either.
The problem was not inside, where Armon Gilliam strong-armed his way for 27 points. The problem was on the outside and it wasn't until Gerald Paddio and Freddie Banks made a mid-course correction in their missile launchings that UNLV was able to get back in the game.
When Iowa forward Kevin Gamble's jumper fell, the Hawkeyes were close enough to New Orleans to order some bread pudding. They led, 62-44, and it looked as if there was only one thing that could rescue the Rebels.
"I thought we were living on borrowed time," Tarkanian said. "We were not only getting beat, we were getting humiliated."
Then, one thing saved the Rebels--the three-point shot.
Rebel shooters made seven three-pointers in a 34-8 rally, a remarkable run of streak-shooting since each of them came from the hands of Paddio and Banks, who were so cold they might have been suffering from frostbite.
Paddio finished with 20 points and Banks had 17. Paddio came back from a 0 for 5 first-half in three-pointers to make four straight. He said it was all in the mind, always a dangerous place for a shooter.
"In the first half, I was thinking about the shot," Paddio said. "In the second half, I didn't think. I just put it up."
He put it down, too. But Iowa wasn't through just yet, even if it seemed so. After catching the Rebels asleep at the switch in the first half, the Hawkeyes seemed unable to do anything inside. Roy Marble missed four easy shots inside during the Rebel run, yet the Hawkeyes managed to regain their composure.
Iowa ran off five straight points, four by Marble, to get within 78-75, and when point guard B. J. Armstrong, whose 18 points tied Marble for the team high, got loose and scored on a breakaway, the Hawkeyes were down only 82-78.
The worst must be over, they thought. The Rebel charge was over and they had withstood it. What else could go wrong? Just enough, it turned out.
Banks shanked the front end of a one-and-one and Gamble came right back with a three-pointer to cut the UNLV lead to 82-81. Then Iowa threw its press at UNLV and forced Gary Graham into a 10-second violation.
So with 22 seconds left, Iowa had the ball and called time out to set up a play. They might have chosen the wrong one. Gamble tried to throw an alley-oop pass to 7-0 Brad Lohaus, but the ball bounced off the right side of the backboard and out of bounds.
Alley-oops . Lohaus was clearly open, but Gamble, who beat Oklahoma with a three-pointer in the last second of overtime Friday night, threw a pass that was about six feet off the mark.
You could say that a lob-pass trick-play on the most important possession of the season was a bit unusual. Basnight felt it was something else.
"I was shocked," he said. "It really, really shocked me. I thought they would pound it down low or shoot a three-pointer, but that's their coach, a very, very exciting coach who thinks of the unexpected."
Iowa Coach Tom Davis said his play had three options and on two of them, the ball would go inside. Gamble picked the third option instead, the lob pass.
Lohaus said the alley-oop had worked all year. "It just happened to nick the backboard, so it didn't work this time," he said. "If it had worked, we would have scored and things might have been different."
The Rebels gratefully accepted their reprieve. Graham dropped two free throws with 10 seconds left for an 84-81 lead. Iowa had no time outs, but the Hawkeyes can count and they knew their only hope was a three-pointer.