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THE REBELS OUTRAN 'EM
Curry Kirkpatrick
April 02, 1990
Ultimately, after three weeks of passion-wrenching scenes, Loyola Marymount, the little team that ran the socks off nearly everyone, got run out of the Oakland Coliseum on Sunday by the bigger, stronger, faster and, yes, even better-conditioned Runnin' Rebels of UNLV, a team that did everything the Lions did, only better. But no one need think that Loyola Marymount's fallen leader, Hank Gathers, who had collapsed and died of heart failure in a game just 22 days earlier, might be dishonored by the 131-101 blowout. The hustling, hardscrabble Vegas crew—whose remarkable forward tandem of Stacey Augmon and Larry Johnson combined for 53 points and 29 rebounds—beat the Lions at their own game.
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April 02, 1990

The Rebels Outran 'em

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Ultimately, after three weeks of passion-wrenching scenes, Loyola Marymount, the little team that ran the socks off nearly everyone, got run out of the Oakland Coliseum on Sunday by the bigger, stronger, faster and, yes, even better-conditioned Runnin' Rebels of UNLV, a team that did everything the Lions did, only better. But no one need think that Loyola Marymount's fallen leader, Hank Gathers, who had collapsed and died of heart failure in a game just 22 days earlier, might be dishonored by the 131-101 blowout. The hustling, hardscrabble Vegas crew—whose remarkable forward tandem of Stacey Augmon and Larry Johnson combined for 53 points and 29 rebounds—beat the Lions at their own game.

Loyola Marymount, with Gathers in the lineup, also lost to UNLV in the regular season, back on Nov. 15. At the end of that 102-91 rout, during which nasty words between the teams were exchanged, a furious Gathers, who had a solid 18 points and 11 rebounds, stormed toward the UNLV bench, beckoning one and all to come and get it. Later, Rebel coach Jerry Tarkanian came to the visitors' locker room to apologize for the behavior of his players. Ever the gallant warrior, Gathers sat on a bench and said softly, "Maybe we'll see them again sometime."

So it was that pathos pervaded the West Regional, where Gathers's brave, brokenhearted teammates pressed on without him. Suddenly they were celebrities—Bo Kimble and Jeff Fryer shooting three-pointers on The Arsenio Hall Show—but, said guard Tom Peabody, "for all the wrong reasons. Hank had to die for us to come into the light."

In addition to speaking of the emotional surge driving his team, Loyola coach Paul Westhead acknowledged a terrible group fear, not so much of losing in the tournament but of finishing it. Measuring his words, Westhead said, "Basketball is the easy part. We all know, when this is over we are going to have to face Hank's death again—and there won't be the games to fall back on."

The day before the final, Westhead reviewed a tape of his team's earlier loss to the Rebs at UNLV. Gathers was everywhere. "There was some great stuff," Westhead said, his eyes moistening. He considered asking his players if they wanted to view the tape, but he never did. "I may have made a technical mistake," he said. "But I know I did the right thing for them."

Neither UNLV nor Loyola made it to their reunion easily. The Rebels, who barely escaped Ball State 69-67 in one semifinal, were called "thugs" by Cardinals coach Dick Hunsaker, who apparently didn't appreciate his own trash-talker, Paris McCurdy, being taunted in return. In an earlier round, McCurdy had yapped so much at Oregon State's major-mouth, Gary Payton, that Payton had requested help from the referee. The colloquial Card stated his philosophy: "I try to put them to the test with my talking," McCurdy said. "They get to a point where they want to bust me in the mouth."

Which, sure enough, the Rebs nearly did after Ball State's Mike Spicer short-armed a lob pass in the lane as the Cards' final bid for the upset disappeared. A circle of UNLV players surrounded McCurdy as the teams filed to the locker rooms; they weren't singing I Love Paris in the Springtime either.

"Other teams keep it [the talking] to basketball," Loyola's Chris Knight observed. "Vegas is like, "Where's your mother? I think she's in my room.' They're dirtier. They're funnier."

Meanwhile, the Lions needed their previously unrecognized poise and patience to fend off Alabama 62-60 in the other semi. Loyola prevailed, even though the Crimson Tide—surely the best-coached team in the tournament courtesy of Wimp ("I was named that before anybody knew what one was") Sanderson—outshot and outrebounded the Lions and slowed their high-powered, 122-points-per-game offense to a virtual crawl.

Was Alabama shaken up by Gathers's death? "Aww, man," said Tide forward Robert Horry. "He played on the West Coast. We're an East Coast team. No factor."

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