Shark Attack UNLV Puts Bite on OU; Tubbs Looks to Rematch

Jim Lassiter Published: November 26, 1986
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LAS VEGAS The way it works, one moment you're up, the next moment you're down.

And it all happens in the bat of an eye.

That's college basketball. Can't be coached. Can't be officiated.

Can't be controlled.

Coaches even wise ones talk about "tempo," but they must do it to appease nosey writers. They have no more control of the pace, the style, the pattern of play than the guy sitting in Bob Uecker's seat at the top of the grandstand.

Or at least that's the way it was Monday night for the Oklahoma Sooners and the Nevada-Las Vegas Runnin' Rebs. The Rebs got an early lead by pounding the ball inside and then lost it by going three-point-try crazy. The Sooners fell out of it early by trying to run with the home team, then got back in it with tough zone defense and then fell out of contention for good by trying to up-tempo the nation's foremost up-tempo team.

If you can figure out how all that happened, or even why, you can figure out the second round of the Coca Cola NIT Classic at Jerry Tarkanian's Thomas & Mack Center, better known as "Tark's Shark Tank."

Incidentally, with this taut 90-81 victory, Jerry kid's are now 47-2 in this $30 million den of din. And well they ought to be. The pep band plays the "da-da, da-da, da-da" theme of "Jaws" at first sight of the opposition, while a red carpet is rolled out for the home team to enter on. Then a laser light show, complete with exploding fireworks, works the crowd into a frenzy and the visitors into a tither.

Of course, you may be asking, as Billy Tubbs was, why the NIT sent No. 7 Oklahoma to play at No. 5 UNLV when every other national power originally part of the 16-team field was already home for Thanksgiving?

It's a good question. If only there was a good answer.

"I figure UNLV "bought' the game," said Tubbs.

He meant the Rebs had guaranteed the New York officials, who are strapped for funds despite their tie-up with Coca Cola, they would "pay off" on two capacity crowds. That is, the NIT would receive its share of receipts for 37,000 tickets at $12 a pop. To the Rebs, the guarantee is worth every penny even though they'll go in the hole as a result of drawing "just" 14,836 Monday night.

Another factor was OU's Lloyd Noble Arena, which is outsized by facilities at Memphis State, Western Kentucky and Villanova, the other three who hosted second-round games. Economics, in other words, dictated that the Sooners hit the road to win their ticket to the Big Apple.

Still, the nagging thought persists that the NIT really held its "finals" Monday night and what a finals it was. It was good enough that Tubbs found a lot of positives in losing.

"For one thing," he said, "it made us anxious for Jan. 17."

That's the date the Rebs will be in Lloyd Noble for a CBS game. In other words, "pay back" time is coming. And the Sooners think they have a number of outstanding debts to collect on.

Maybe the college game is undergoing a change overall, but the OU-UNLV game was as physical as any NBA playoff game you'd care to watch some June evening. All of the Rebs play like Armon "The Hammer" Gilliam, who's built like the guy on the baking soda box. Gilliam's 11 straight points kept UNLV in it after OU had taken a 69-68 lead in the second half.


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