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August 8, 2007

Best of the 64 Era: The 1990 Runnin' Rebels

Top 10 Profile
1990 UNLV
Final record: 35-5
Non-conference record: 19-3
Double-digit victories: 24
Average victory margin: 17.8
NBA first-round picks: Three (Greg Anthony, Stacey Augmon, Larry Johnson)

No team has looked better in the spotlight of the national championship game than UNLV's 1989-90 squad. The Runnin' Rebels rolled to a 103-73 win over Duke, which stands as the most lopsided final in NCAA history.

But, it's what the Rebels did afterward that launched them to No. 1 on Rivals.com's Top 10 Teams of the 64 Era. It only served to crystallize the dominance of this group, and it's impossible to separate from the 1990 championship.

With the same nucleus back the following season, UNLV went on one of the most dominating tears ever seen in college basketball.

The Rebels won 34 consecutive games, and won is putting it way too mildly. Their average margin of victory was a gaudy 27.3 points. Critics point out a watered-down conference schedule from playing in the Big West, but the results were similar against top teams from major conferences. The Rebels beat Michigan State (95-75) and Florida State (101-69) a pair of NCAA Tournament teams that season by a combined 52 points.

"It's the only time in my career where I went to games thinking we really couldn't lose," then-UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian said. "We didn't have a close game all year until the Final Four. I would try and tell the guys how tough the games were going to be and they'd go out and win by 40."

On a road trip to No. 2 Arkansas, the Rebels built a 23-point second-half lead. A late comeback left them with a 112-105 win. It was the closest game UNLV endured until a shocking 79-77 loss in a rematch against Duke in the national semifinals.

Like many others, that upset didn't keep former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson from walking away in awe.

"That bunch with Larry Johnson and Anderson Hunt (the Most Outstanding Player of the 1990 Final Four) just manhandled you," said Richardson, who had a 30-5 team also fall to UNLV the previous season, 101-93. "They were men playing with boys. I think (UNLV) is the best team I've ever seen. I'm not sure anyone else is even close."

1989-1990 UNLV roster
Dan Bisek G, 6-0, 168, Jr., Las Vegas, Nev.
Sean Watkins G, 6-0, 170, Fr., Los Angeles, Calif.
Byron Wesley F, 6-3, 195, Jr., Los Angeles, Calif.
00 David Butler C, 6-10, 200, Sr., Washington, D.C.
4 Larry Johnson F, 6-7, 250, Jr., Dallas
5 Stacey Cvijanovich G, 6-3, 200, Sr., Oxnard, Calif.
12 Anderson Hunt G, 6-1, 176, So., Detroit
13 Travis Bice G, 6-4, 152, So., Simi Valley, Calif.
15 Bryan Emerzian G, 5-11, 165, So., Waukegan, Ill.
30 Dave Rice G, 6-4, 205, Jr., Claremont, Calif.
32 Stacey Augmon F, 6-8, 206, Jr., Pasadena, Calif.
33 Barry Young F, 6-7, 223, Jr., Ellicott, Md.
34 James Jones C, 6-8, 220, Sr., Cincinnati
35 Moses Scurry F, 6-7, 220, Sr., Brooklyn, N.Y.
44 George Ackles C, 6-10, 208, Sr., Pittsburgh, Pa.
50 Greg Anthony G, 6-2, 190, Jr., Las Vegas, Nev.
53 Chris Jeter F, 6-8, 216, Jr., San Diego
Head coach: Jerry Tarkanian
Facing Duke again was the biggest fear for Tarkanian, who knew seeing the Blue Devils wouldn't motivate his supremely confident squad.

"Playing Duke is the worst thing that could have happened to us in the tournament (in 1991)," Tarkanian said. "I didn't want to draw them because we had beaten them by 30. I knew they would be tough the second time around."

Even former Duke guard Thomas Hill, the second-leading scorer for the Blue Devils during their second national title run in 1991-92, believes the Runnin' Rebels were better.

"We would have beaten (2006-07) Florida (which landed at No. 4 on our list) by 30," Hill said. "UNLV would have won by 50. They just had a great swagger about them and were more mature than us."

It was the arrival of Johnson, a high-profile junior college transfer, that transformed UNLV into such a feared force.

Season Results
Overall: 35-5 Big West: 16-2
11/15Loyola Marymount #W102-91
11/17California #W101-81
11/22Kansas $L91-71
11/24DePaul $W88-53
12/9at OklahomaL89-81
12/16at PacificW79-65
12/23Iowa %W97-80
12/26Long Beach StateW78-58
12/30ArkansasW101-93
1/1Cal State FullertonW94-66
1/6San Jose StateW100-80
1/8New Mexico StateL82-83
1/13at TempleW82-76
1/15at Fresno StateW84-74
1/18UC IrvineW103-67
1/22at Long Beach StateW86-77
1/25UC Santa BarbaraW 69-67
1/28at Louisiana StateL105-107
2/1Utah StateW124-90
2/3N.C. StateW88-82
2/5San Jose StateW105-69
2/8PacificW116-76
2/10Oklahoma StateW100-84
2/12Fresno StateW69-64
2/15New MexicoW109-86
2/18ArizonaW95-87
2/22UC IrvineW91-81
2/26UC Santa BarbaraL70-78
3/1at Utah StateW84-82
3/3at Cal State FullertonW103-85
3/9Cal State Fullerton ^W115-93
3/10Pacific ^W99-72
3/11Long Beach State ^W92-74
3/15Arkansas-Little Rock &W102-72
3/17Ohio State &W76-65
3/23Ball State *W69-67
3/25Loyola Marymount *W131-101
3/31Georgia Tech **W90-81
4/2Duke **W103-73
# Preseason NIT
$ Preseason NIT Final Four, New York, N.Y.
% GTE Duel in the Desert, Las Vegas
^ Big West Conf. Tournament, Long Beach, Calif.
& NCAA West First and Second Rounds, Salt Lake City, Utah
* NCAA West Regional, Oakland, Calif.
** NCAA Final Four, Denver
In the 1989 NCAA Tournament, a very young Rebels team had upset No. 1-ranked Arizona 68-67 before falling to eventual NCAA runner-up Seton Hall (84-61) in the Elite Eight. Every key player returned, and Johnson gave them the go-to offensive guy they'd been lacking.

"We knew once we signed Larry we were going to be really good," Tarkanian said. "That team that beat Arizona was one of our weaker teams. (Stacey) Augmon and Hunt were just freshmen. It was (Greg) Anthony's first year for us."

Johnson averaged a double-double his first season, going for 20.6 points and 11.4 rebounds a game. The muscular power forward, the No. 1 pick in the 1991 NBA draft, did it again the following year on his way to capturing national player of the year honors. He averaged 22.7 points and 10.6 rebounds, but it was Johnson's humility - not his production - that won over his teammates.

"Larry united the team," Tarkanian said. "He was the ultimate team player. After every game he would give the credit to everyone else. He'd go out and score 23 and all he'd talk about was how Anthony did a great job getting him the ball."

Anthony, a point guard from Las Vegas, nearly didn't play for UNLV. Not heavily recruited by the Rebels or any major programs in high school, Anthony went to the University of Portland for a year. He impressed Tarkanian enough to transfer.

"Greg called one of our assistants and said he wanted to come back home," Tarkanian said. "With his quickness and athleticism, we knew he could be great on defense."

Anthony gave the Rebels a solid distributor and a great on-the-ball defender. He is tied with Augmon for the school record for steals (275).

Anthony also provided remarkable toughness. Midway through the 1989-90 season, he took a hard fall against Fresno State and broke his jaw. He never missed a game.

"Greg broke the jaw on a Thursday and had it wired shut on a Friday," Tarkanian said. "We had a game that Wednesday and the trainer told me he could play three to four minutes at a time. He wound up playing over 30 minutes. During every time out, he'd sit down and the trainer would have to loosen the wires so he could breathe. He is the toughest guy around."

Hunt, Anthony's backcourt mate, provided a perimeter shooting threat and offensive firepower. In the 1990 Final Four, Hunt shot 19-for-31 (61 percent) from the field and combined for 49 points against Georgia Tech and Duke.

"Anderson was a great shooter and a perfect fit for our team," Tarkanian said. "He could also really play defense."

Augmon, who earned the nickname "The Plastic Man" for his long arms and lanky frame, could often shut down an opponent's best player - regardless of what position they played. He was selected the 1990-91 national defensive player of the year.

The Rebels are best remembered for their overwhelming talent Anthony and Augmon were both lottery picks who went on to play a combined 26 years in the NBA. Their work ethic and chemistry may have been what ultimately lifted them to the top of our list.

"They were the most unselfish and hardest-working team I ever had," Tarkanian said. "That's what really made them special."

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.



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