Nevada Las Vegas' winning streak in the Thomas and Mack Center is now a very convincing one in a row.
The 13th-ranked Runnin' 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 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 in front of 15,506.
In two days, Las Vegas (12-1 overall, 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 win 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 from the floor against Fullerton. Saturday night, Woods was 6 for 12, Engelstad was 3 for 6 and Floyd was 3 for 12.
Engelstad, playing in his 100th straight game and making his 51st start, was under 20 points for the first time in five games. Averaging 22.6, the Rebels' held him to 10.
And Irvine made only 18 of 28 free throws after making 40 of 48 in their first two PCAA games.
"They played very well and we played very poorly and that usually adds up to a rout, doesn't it?" Mulligan said. "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, and that added up to a big-time blowout.
"I'm obviously pleased," UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian said. "We played excellent defense, really got after them defensively, and that was the best job of getting the ball inside on offense we've done this year."
Gerald Paddio, the Rebels' leading scorer who was 1 of 13 from the field against Santa Barbara, responded with a 21-point performance in just 23 minutes against Irvine. He had 10 of UNLV's first 17 points as Las Vegas jumped out 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, the only PCAA team to beat the Runnin' Rebels twice in one season (1986), 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. Tarkanian went to the bench and Irvine managed to stay within 40.
UNLV had five players in double figures and only three were starters. Paddio, who was 7 of 14--including 4 of 7 from three-point range--from the floor, led the UNLV scoring. Reserve Stacy Augmon ("He had his best game as a Rebel," Tarkanian said) scored 17.
Jarvis Basnight, who had the highest field-goal percentage in the nation (.711) coming in, made 7 of 8 and scored 14. Guard Keith James scored 12 and reserve Stacey Cvijanovich added 10.
The rout was total. UNLV outrebounded Irvine, 44-34, turned the ball over less often (24-27) and had 13 steals to the Anteaters' one.
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 three PCAA games made Tarkanian decide to go the opposite route and let his team live up to the Runnin' part of their 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.