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Today's Pairings: Familiar and Fated to Meet : The UNLV-Indiana Survivor Will Probably Be Favored to Win the NCAA Championship

March 28, 1987|THOMAS BONK | Times Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS — Let's see if this makes sense:

Nevada Las Vegas was the first of the Final Four basketball teams to get here, and Indiana was the last.

UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian has given his players the run of the town, and Indiana Coach Bob Knight has set up roadblocks on Bourbon Street for his players.

So, who's got the edge here?

Knight hopes that his team takes his word that the best way to handle New Orleans is sight unseen.

"Hell, I'll take them on a sightseeing trip," Knight said. "I'll arrange a tour. I've been here before. I'll show them where they don't want to go. I just don't think my players would be too interested. I mean, there are a lot of sights in Bloomington, too."

And there should be quite a sight in the Superdome today when Indiana (28-4) and UNLV (37-1) play their semifinal game. It will be a contrast of styles. On the one hand, you've got the freewheeling, wide-open Runnin' Rebels, and on the other you've got the highly disciplined Hoosiers.

Then there are the coaches. Tarkanian is cool enough that you could cook an egg on his shoe and he probably wouldn't notice. Any egg cooked on Knight's shoe would be hard-boiled.

Still, there is a similarity between the teams. Both have been getting a little behind in their work lately. UNLV had to make up 19 points to beat Iowa in the West Regional. Indiana was down by 14 points to Auburn and by 12 points to Louisiana State and came back to win both of those games.

Can the Hoosiers fall far behind UNLV and do it again?

"How far behind?" Knight asked.

Say, 15 points.

"I'd say we'd be in difficult trouble then. Can you put us maybe 3 or 4 points behind?"

UNLV hopes to oblige. The team that wins this one is probably going to be favored to win it all Monday night in the championship game against either Providence or Syracuse. Right now, the Rebels feel certain they'll be there.

"They haven't had the (defensive) pressure on them that we can put on a team," UNLV guard Gary Graham said. "We're a pressure team. They haven't had a team in their face for 90 feet. I don't think they've ever seen the kind of pressure we can put on."

But the Hoosiers have a couple of press-busters in the backcourt. Tarkanian, who has a vision of Indiana guards Steve Alford and Keith Smart dribbling holes in his press, had hoped his players wouldn't sound quite so confident.

"I wish my kids hadn't said that," Tarkanian said. "This will be a very tough team to press."

But the Rebels are going to go right ahead and try anyway. And when they have the ball, they're also going to come right down and shoot it, probably quickly and probably from three-point range. If not, they'll get the ball to 6-foot 9-inch Armon Gilliam inside and let him work against 6-10 Dean Garrett.

That may actually be the key matchup, although how Freddie Banks and Alford shoot also looms as a major factor.

"Armon is the heart that pumps the blood," UNLV point guard Mark Wade said.

And Graham said of Gilliam: "He's our bread and butter."

Whatever Gilliam is to UNLV, Alford is to Indiana.

"He's one of the best players in the nation," Wade said. "It'll be tough for us to stay with him. I think everybody on our team would like to get a shot at him because he's such a well-known player."

Alford, a first-team All-American, was Indiana's leading scorer this season, averaging 21.7 points. In the Hoosiers' four NCAA tournament games, Alford is averaging 20.5 points. He had 31 in a 107-90 victory over Auburn.

Alford said he isn't worried about playing a fast-paced game, even if that isn't one of Indiana's strengths.

"Obviously, they are going to play quick," he said. "We're a little bit of the opposite. We're a patient offense and want to get the best shot every time down. I know I'm not going to be as quick, strong or run and jump as well as most of the players I'm matched up against. I'll compensate, as I have since I was very young, by playing as hard as I can and as smart as I can."

As always, UNLV is going to shoot as often as it can. There is a chance that Indiana may want Smart or whoever is on Wade to sag off him and help defend against Gilliam, which Wade expects to happen.

"If the shot is there, I'll take it," Wade said.

That is the UNLV offense in one sentence. In their four tournament games, the Rebels have put up 97 three-point shots. Indiana has tried 25. The Hoosiers are likely to extend their defense out to the three-point line and contest the Rebels' long-distance shooting, which really hasn't been too good in the tournament.

UNLV's three-point accuracy is only 30.3% and includes games of 6 for 25 against Kansas State and 4 for 23 against Wyoming.

However, Tarkanian doesn't see any reason to change now.

"I think the three-point shot is not a big distance," he said. "I think it's a high percentage shot. We're just not shooting it real well.

"But I'd rather shoot 40% at three-point range than 50% at two-point range," he said. "I'd rather shoot an open jumper at 20 feet than have a hand in my face at 10 feet.

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