Most likely, though, the key factor was this: The quick-handed, oppressive defense that Arkansas terrorizes normal foes with was turned on the Hogs by a bigger, stronger, faster team that plays the same style, only better. In the first half, the 6'9", 288-pound Miller, who finished with 22 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks in an exhausting effort, surprised Vegas with some court-length outlet passes. But.... "I told the team at halftime," said Tarkanian, " 'Let's keep both guards back. And let's not get beat off the dribble.' "
Georgia Tech guard Kenny Anderson had been able to penetrate the Vegas defense in the semifinals of last season's NCAA tournament, and Mayberry and backcourt-mate Todd Day were briefly successful doing the same on Sunday. Eventually, though, the MayDay tandem was helpless, committing 14 of Arkansas's 23 turnovers against a Rebel man-to-man that was unyielding.
Let's get something straight. In this game, as it has been all season long, UNLV's best player was not Johnson but Augmon. While the rest of the Rebs were fumbling through the first half, Augmon scored 19 points in an open-court slicing, dicing, dunking exhibition that was matched by his second-half defensive containment of the explosive Day. Augmon wound up with a game-high 31 points and held Day to one basket in the first 11 minutes of the second half—in other words, the minutes that mattered.
Just because this was another Game of the Millennium—"the hoo-rah pub [for publicity] game," as Miller called it—didn't mean the coaches had to get excited. At least they said they didn't, though Richardson slipped his guard and equated his feelings about the game to the "double-high big time" he had in 1980 when his Western Texas team won the national junior college championship in the same week he got his first Division I job, at Tulsa. "He's not kidding anybody," said Arkansas assistant Scott Edgar. "This is the kind of game we all coach for—live for."
On Saturday, Tarkanian said he hadn't spent "five minutes" thinking about Arkansas. Still, he had held two closed practices in Fayetteville. Closed except, of course, to his eclectic entourage of restaurateurs, casino hosts and assorted showbiz refugees from UNLV's Gucci Row. Some of the visitors seemed either puzzled or bored by the enormous hype surrounding the game. "Am I looking forward to this?" said Johnson, chuckling. "I looked forward to us playing Fresno State this week, too." The Rebels won that game 113-64.
In truth, the good folks of Arkansas were treated to all of the hoops-la that a one-two summit deserved. Probably only one other regular-season game in the history of the sport had received such attention—UCLA versus Houston in the Astrodome in January 1968, the Elvin Hayes- Lew Alcindor classic that lifted the popularity of college basketball to new heights.
In Arkansas's two major dailies, the Gazette and the Democrat, both published in Little Rock, the so-called Burner in the Barn had been the subject of front-page stories for weeks. Television remote units from local stations set up housekeeping around Barnhill Arena from sunrise through the late news. Last Friday night the Rebels' hotel offered a seafood buffet featuring Broiled Shark! Churches moved up services to accommodate the 11:20 a.m. tip-off". Then there were all those tents pitched outside the arena—80 at last sight—wherein Arkansas students bivouacked for as long as a week to grab the unreserved seats. "I told those kids," Miller said before the game, " 'Man, the game's better on TV. You can see replays and go to the fridge.' In class even my professors were asking me for tickets. I said, 'Sure, you give me an A....' "
Tarkanian was also concerned about TV and tickets. Initially, he whined because he thought the hotel would not have ESPN. (It did.) Next he moaned about UNLV's allotment of tickets. "We gave Arkansas 240 when they came to Vegas last year," he said. "We come here, and they pull a quick one on us—70 tickets. Nolan came up with 12 more, but they're spread out everywhere."
"What does he want, a cheering section?" said Richardson.
For all the statistical categories in which they dominate the universe, the Rebels barely edge the Hogs in swagger and palaver. Last Thursday, seconds after their comeback victory over Houston 81-74 on the road, the Razorbacks started oinking all over the place. "Vegas, Vegas," Miller said. "That's all we hear. It's just a name. They ain't played nobody. If we keep them off the offensive boards, we win by 10."