FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- The great teams all have the capability. They can attack with the relentlessness of an accomplished middleweight unleashing a flurry of left hooks, with the suddenness of a summer squall that arises on the plains and sweeps aside all in front of it.
The great teams all have the steeliness. They can stare into the eye of the tiger without having to blink, can overcome any obstacle with an ease so obscene it leaves witnesses open-mouthed in awe.
Top-ranked Nevada-Las Vegas (20-0) is a great team, and it did all that and more yesterday while routing then-No. 2 Arkansas in Barnhill Arena. The final score was 112-105, but that margin hardly tells all that the Runnin' Rebels did here against the Razorbacks (23-2), who dropped to No. 3 in the Associated Press poll released this morning.
To understand just how awesome they were in this season's mega-game, the focus must be narrowed to the first 14 minutes of the second half. Until then, this one had matched all the publicity that had surrounded it, and the emotionally charged Razorbacks had hung with the defending national champs.
Behind Todd Day (26 points) and Oliver Miller (22), they had played the Rebels even, and a late flurry of threes against the Rebels' zone had even given them a 50-46 halftime lead. "We have to act like we're down 10 and get desperate," UNLV guard Greg Anthony would shout to his teammates in their locker room.
"We had them where we wanted them," Day said afterward, "and I thought we'd be more mentally pumped coming out with the lead. But we came out flat, and they jumped us."
UNLV not only jumped the Razorbacks at the start of the second half, it throttled them, belittled them, overwhelmed them with a display that left the raucous Barnhill crowd agape. Here, after ending the first half in a zone, they opened in a harassing man-to-man, and each time a Razorback put up a shot, their Anderson Hunt released toward the other end.
"It wasn't that we weren't getting back. We just had to stay and rebound," Day said. "Anderson Hunt didn't rebound all night."
"Our clue to Anderson was to see if one of our guys was close to the rebound," Rebels coach Jerry Tarkanian said. "If one of our guys was going to get it, he was supposed to go."
Now it was not only Hunt, but all of the Rebels starting to go, and quickly they ripped off 10 straight points to take a 56-50 lead with 18:05 remaining. Miller ended that run with a layup, but then came a pair of tips by Larry Johnson, who would finish with 25 points, and an offensive rebound by Stacey Augmon, who would finish with a game-high 31.
That made it seven baskets (and six layups) in seven second-half possessions for the Rebels, and that was only their opening act. Their second began at 14:19 and with their lead 66-61 -- an Augmon jumper, a Johnson dunk and foul shot, a Hunt dunk and a Hunt layup on yet another long pass from Johnson.
Now it was UNLV, 75-61, and still ahead was the closing act, the act that began after Arkansas had pulled to within 10 with 10:11 still left. Hunt hit a three and, after misses by Day and Mayberry, a pair of free throws. Then there was a flurry of exchanged baskets, but suddenly there was a layup by Augmon, a pair of foul shots by Johnson, a dunk and free throw by George Ackles (17 points), a reverse layup by Johnson, and another layup by Johnson.
Said Tarkanian: "We played about as well as you can play in those minutes."