UNLV is using some impressive defense in its defense of the national championship.
The top-ranked Runnin' Rebels showed No. 2 Arkansas, a pretty fair defensive team in its own right, how to turn turnovers into points quickly and often."They showed they are No. 1 today," Arkansas' Todd Day said Sunday after his Razorbacks had their 20-game winning streak snapped 112-105. "Defensively, they are one of the best teams I've ever played against."
The Runnin' Rebels (20-0), who won their 31st consecutive game, entered the game averaging 104.1 points, but this is no run-and-gun, hurry up-and-shoot-so-we-can-run team. The average margin of victory is better than 32 points per game and opponents are shooting 38 percent against them, while committing an average of 21 turnovers.
Arkansas (23-2) had a 50-46 lead at halftime and had committed 11 turnovers, just four below their average for an entire game. The second half started with a 16-2 run for the Runnin' Rebels and most of the easy baskets came after a key defensive play.
"The first five minutes of the second half were critical. Turnovers were the difference in the game," Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson said. "We had 23. They had 15. Usually it's the other way around."
Not against this team. The vaunted Razorback press did little more than run a few seconds off the 45-second shot clock. UNLV passed over it, dribbled through it and generally seemed to ignore it.
This is the same press that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said wiped his team out in the Final Four before UNLV handed the Blue Devils the worst championship game defeat in history.
"We played better in the second half; we call it Rebel Power," said point guard Greg Anthony, who had 10 assists and four of UNLV's 13 steals. "We just push it up and things turn our way."
They went so much UNLV's way that the Runnin' Rebels had a 98-75 lead with 6:23 to play and even the record crowd of 9,640 at Barnhill Arena knew things were over.
"In the second half we did a great job of denying the ball," UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian said. "I don't know how anyone can play better than we did in the first 17 minutes of the second half. There aren't too many teams that can come in here and win. I know I've never had another team that could have won here."
The talk after the game was more like that following a 50-49 affair than one which saw a combined 217 points.
"We were up four at the half and they hadn't played up to their capabilities," Richardson said.