Nevada Las Vegas became the first team in 12 years to finish the regular season undefeated after a 104-83 Big West Conference victory over Cal State Fullerton Saturday night.
A Titan Gym crowd of 4,032, more than double Fullerton's average home attendance, watched the top-ranked Rebels start the second half with an 11-3 run that opened a 20-point lead and cruise to their 27th consecutive victory this season.
Forward Larry Johnson scored 33 points and grabbed 11 rebounds and guard Greg Anthony added 19 points and four assists for the Rebels. Joe Small scored 27 points and J.D. Green had 21 for Fullerton, which kept the score semi-respectable.
Of course, it should be noted that Las Vegas never used its full-court press.
Not since Indiana State and Alcorn State in 1978-79 has a Division I team finished the regular season undefeated. Larry Bird-led Indiana State finished 33-1, losing to Magic Johnson's Michigan State team in the NCAA championship game, but Alcorn State didn't earn a tournament berth because its schedule did not meet NCAA criteria.
The preliminaries behind them, the Rebels will attempt to become the first team since Indiana in 1975-76 to finish as unbeaten national champions.
"I told the guys after the game, 'Hey, we've got this part over, and now we have to move our game up a notch,' " UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian said. "But we've never discussed going undefeated. We haven't talked about it once."
That the Rebels went undefeated during the regular season is not that much of a shock. The defending national champions were ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls, they were clearly the dominant team in a weak conference, and they faced only two potential nonconference challenges in Michigan State and Arkansas.
But what is surprising is how simple it has all seemed. UNLV's average margin of victory is 29.4 points, a shade under the NCAA record 30.3 set by UCLA in 1972-73. The Rebels whipped then-second-ranked Arkansas, 112-105, in February, and no opponent has been within striking distance in the final minutes.
The Rebels, who average 103 points, trailed for only 38 minutes 40 seconds of the 1,080 minutes played, or less than 4%. They trailed the longest against Arkansas, for a total of 8:47. They've only trailed twice in the second half, against Michigan State (a 95-75 victory) and Arkansas.