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PCAA Preview : Nevada Las Vegas Is Still Team to Beat, but Task May Be Easier

November 26, 1987|JOHN WEYLER | Times Staff Writer

A few million people had just switched on their television sets to watch the Final Four, the high-tech computer graphics were swirling into place and the voice-over introductions began:

"It's down to four . . . Syracuse and Providence from the Big East, Indiana from the Big Ten and, from out West, the Runnin' Rebels."

From out West?

Nevada Las Vegas is so well recognized in college basketball that its nickname suffices. But the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. is so obscure, CBS apparently doesn't feel it's even worth mentioning.

That was just a bit more ammunition for PCAA coaches, who feel they have gotten no respect over the years--especially when it comes time for picking postseason berths. Trouble is, when it comes to direct competition with the nation's best, only the Rebels have done much to earn recognition or, for that matter, respect.

Jerry Pimm, the coach at UC Santa Barbara, thinks that will change this season.

"This is the best conference in the West," Pimm said. "We've got a tremendous amount of returning starters. But we've got to beat them. Until then it's all talk."

And the Rebels may not be in a position to do all the conference's talking this season. UNLV has definitely dropped a notch or two from last season--which means they aren't a Final Four team, although they still figure to be the team to beat in the PCAA.

"We're the only team in this conference who lost anything," said UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian, who always sings the preseason blues but finally may have some reason.

"We lost six seniors. We have only four players back and only nine scholarship players on the squad. We lost a potential starter to injury and another didn't make it through summer school. Everyone says, 'Vegas is loaded,' but nobody can even name our players.

"We don't know a lot about our club and I've never gone into a season like this. We might not even fast-break. We might be a half-court team. That's the truth.

"I'm trying to be honest with you. I don't know why you're laughing, I'm telling you the truth!"

The rest of the league may have trouble feeling sorry for Tark and Co., but the consensus is that if there ever was a time to knock the Rebels off the top, this is it.

San Jose State, which got 2 of 10 first-place votes in the coaches' poll, would have gotten a lot more if power forward Reggie Owens were still around. Coach Bill Berry dismissed Owens--the team's top rebounder and No. 3 scorer last season--from the team last month for "not living up to his team responsibilities."

Berry's son, Ricky, a 6-foot 8 1/2-inch senior who averaged 20.2 points, is still on the team and probably the premier player in the conference.

Cal State Fullerton, always one of the PCAA's best defensive teams, has seven lettermen, including the top two scorers, and has added strength inside with 6-9 Bobby Adair, a transfer from Utah, and 6-8 John Sykes, a transfer from Texas.

A capsule look at the PCAA, in the order of finish predicted by the coaches: NEVADA LAS VEGAS

1986-87 records: 37-2 overall, 18-0 in PCAA

PCAA finish: First

A Tarkanian team has never had a losing season, and this one won't be the first. But the Rebels will be hard-pressed to go undefeated in conference again.

The Rebels are replacing point guard Mark Wade, the National Collegiate Athletic Assn.'s single-season assist leader, with Karl James, a 6-4 freshman from Maryland. They're replacing post man Armon Gilliam, who averaged 23.2 points, with Richard Robinson. And they're replacing guard Freddie Banks, who averaged 19.5 points, with freshman Stacey Augmon, the 4-A player of the year from Pasadena Muir High, who has never played guard.

UNLV has talent and experience at forward: 6-9 senior Gerald Paddio, 13.1 points and 4.3 rebounds, and 6-8 senior Jarvis Basnight, 9.2 and 4.0, are both electric, sometimes dominating players. Depth could be a factor, though. SAN JOSE STATE

1986-87 records: 16-14, 10-8

PCAA finish: Tied for second

The Spartans, who have put together three straight 16-victory seasons, seem to be on the verge of stepping up a level. They have both experience and athleticism.

George Williams, a 6-8 junior transfer from Minnesota, will try to fill the void left by the departure of Reggie Owens. Dietrich Waters, a 6-8 1/2 center, and guards Rodney Scott, a 6-2 transfer from UC Irvine, and Ricky Berry will start for sure.

"We hope Ricky doesn't have to do as much scoring as he has in the past two years," the elder Berry said. "But the way he's playing now, it's hard not to imagine him scoring more." CAL STATE FULLERTON

1986-87 records: 17-13, 9-9

PCAA finish: Tied for fourth

Coach George McQuarn says his team's goal is to be undefeated at home and play .500 ball on the road. Fourteen victories might be enough to win the conference title this season, and Tarkanian thinks the Titans have what it takes.

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