Nevada Las Vegas' winning streak in the Thomas and Mack Center is now a very convincing one in a row.
The 13th-ranked Rebels lost their first game of the season Thursday night when UC Santa Barbara hung on for a 62-60 victory that snapped UNLV's 23-game home winning streak.
"Aren't we lucky?" snarled UC Irvine Coach Bill Mulligan before his team ran through a light practice Saturday. "We get 'em when they're mad."
And just as Mulligan feared, his Anteaters were the victims of the Runnin' Rebels' wrath Saturday night as UNLV rolled to a 103-68 Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. victory before a crowd of 15,506.
In two days, Las Vegas (12-1 overall and 3-1 in the PCAA) regained its intensity, and the Anteaters (6-6, 1-2) lost the incredible shooting touch they displayed during Thursday's victory at Cal State Fullerton. Irvine, which shot 80% in the second half against the Titans, shot 30% in the first half against the Rebels and 37% for the game.
The Anteaters' big three scorers--Wayne Engelstad, Frank Woods and Kevin Floyd--were a combined 20 of 29 against Fullerton. Saturday night, Woods was 6 for 12, Engelstad 3 for 6 and Floyd 3 for 12.
Engelstad, playing in his 100th straight game and making his 51st start, was held to fewer than 20 points for the first time in five games. He was averaging 22.6 points a game, but the Rebels held him to 10.
Irvine, the only PCAA school to beat the Rebels twice in one season (1986), made only 18 of 28 free throws after making 40 of 48 in PCAA play going into the game.
"They played very well, and we played very poorly, and that usually adds up to a rout, doesn't it?" Mulligan asked. "If we don't shoot well, we're not a very good team."
UNLV's full-court pressure defense certainly was a factor, but Las Vegas was getting the job done at both ends of the floor.
"I'm obviously pleased," UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian said. "We played excellent defense, and that was the best job of getting the ball inside we've done this year."
Gerald Paddio, the Rebels' leading scorer who made 1 of 13 shots against Santa Barbara, responded with a 21-point performance in just 23 minutes of play against Irvine . He had 10 of UNLV's first 17 points as Las Vegas jumped to a 17-8 lead.
"We're not that good unless we play hard, really hard," Paddio said. "As you can see, that loss the other night will eventually help us much more than it hurt us."
The Anteaters aren't arguing. They were never really in this one, but when Las Vegas outscored them, 21-1, to open the second half, it was merely a question of whether the Rebels would win by 30, 40 . . . or 50.
With 6:54 left in the game, UNLV led, 90-43.
In the first two conference games, the Anteaters have abandoned their run-and-shoot philosophy in favor of a more-deliberate half-court offense. The Rebels' tentative play in their first three PCAA games made Tarkanian decide that his team should live up to the Runnin' part of its nickname.
"We're better when we're loose and running and not thinking too much," Tarkanian said. "We tried to revive the transition game tonight."
It's alive and thriving . . . just ask the Anteaters.