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.
The Rebs were their most-physical with Tim McCalister, who scored 32 points and has opened his senior season shooting like he intends to lead the nation in scoring. To stop his three-point goals, the Rebs once pushed T-Mac to the floor and rabbit-punched him into submission a second time. The second mugging was so flagrant, even the Pac-10 officials who were "letting them play" whistled a two-shot intentional.
"It was REAL rough in there," exclaimed Darryl "Choo" Kennedy, who had knots on his head to prove it. The war zone play may have had something to do with Kennedy's six-of-17 shooting although he had a night his shots just weren't falling.
"Another problem is we're still feeling our way along," said Tubbs, who has put together one of the toughest 20 schedules in the country. "People have to remember we're basically playing with three new guys."
Two of the newcomers are showing the strain of the adjustment. In time, juco Ricky Grace may be OU's best point guard in Tubbs' time.
He's not yet. And in time, juco Harvey Grant may be Tubbs' most versatile forward. He's not there yet there either, mainly because a broken hand that set him back in pre-season.
But Stacey King, the 6-10 center who missed most of his freshman year because of academics, is getting closer and closer.
"I thought this was Stacey's best game," said Tubbs. The lanky soph scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. At times, he was all OU had on the UNLV glass, where the Rebs are marvels of the second and third shot.
The chore for Tubbs now, as he hits a string of 10 straight tough-but-winnable games is to get Ron Roberts and David Johnson in the flow. Johnson, technically, is a returning starter but reported at 266 and is trying to "starve" himself into shape. Roberts came in a year ago and had so many juco press clippings he was given Wayman Tisdale's jersey number. Tubbs thinks the 6-7 leaper will yet show he deserves No. 23.
"We're going to be a good team, with a chance to be a very, very good team," promises Tubbs.
It wasn't possible for him to say that after the exhibition against the Soviet National team. The Sooners looked like anything but a top-10 team in that game. But practices have been a series of mini-UNLV games and this team is beginning to look as if it has the athletes to equal the '84-'85 Sooners, who won 31 games and went to the Final Eight.
"On a neutral floor I think we'd have beaten Vegas," said Tubbs.
But the game wasn't played on a neutral floor.
And come to think of it, neither will the return match on Jan. 17. BIOG: NAME:Archive ID: 288850