Packed Mack turns intensity up to 11


Midway through the second half of UNLV's 65-63 victory over San Diego State at a raucous as raucous can be Thomas & Mack Center, an image of Flavor Flav flashed on the scoreboard.

The rapper/television personality was beating a cowbell with a drumstick and appeared to be shouting something. It might have been "Yeah boy!" as is his trademark; it might have been R-E-E-BELS! R-E-E-BELS! because that's what everybody else in the sellout crowd of 18,577 -- with the exception of a few hundred Aztecs fans who made the trip north on Interstate 15 -- was chanting.

Flavor Flav was wearing a giant clock around his neck, as also is his trademark.

He should have set it back to 1990, because that's what it sounded like Saturday afternoon.

This was one of those rare college basketball games that one feels instead of merely watches.

This was one of those rare college basketball games that, like Spinal Tap's amplifiers, went to 11.

Should these teams meet again in the Mountain West Conference tournament, Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls simply must be booked for the national anthem.

"That's as good a crowd as there's ever been in the Thomas & Mack Center," UNLV coach Dave Rice said after the Rebels clawed even with the Aztecs and New Mexico atop the conference.

Though coaches are prone to exaggeration and hyperbole in moments such as these, it would be hard to argue with Rice, who was sitting at the end of the Rebels' bench in 1990 waiting to get in against the likes of Pacific and San Jose State.

The intensity of the crowd reminded me of the final night of the old Aladdin Theatre for the Performing Arts, when Motley Crue almost literally brought the house down, with the exception that nobody was urinating in the corner of the men's rooms because the lines were too long.

Taking their cue from The Show, which is what the vociferous San Diego State student body at Viejas Arena calls itself, UNLV's Rebellion brought dozens of giant cardboard heads into the Mack to celebrate Las Vegas' colorful past and present and to distract the San Diego State players when they were shooting free throws. There was Tark and Sammy Davis Jr. and Andre Agassi and Frank Sinatra in a fedora and Jimmy Kimmel and Don King and Kenny Mayne and Mike Tyson and Roy Horn and Tupac and Holly Madison and Greg Maddux and even the Big West logo, a jab at the Aztecs, who will be leaving the MWC to play closer to home (at least in basketball) beginning in 2013.

There also was a supersized cutout of the Rebels' Mike Moser with cardboard arms attached at cardboard elbows by Dzus fasteners or something similar. While I'm not exactly sure what Dzus fasteners are, I once heard Sam Posey, the auto racing analyst, say they were standard equipment on Indy 500 racecars, and this cardboard cutout of Moser was so huge and elaborate, I'm sure it took some high-tech equipment to assemble it.

Those huge flapping arms on Cardboard Moser scared the bejeezus out of Living, Breathing Moser at first, but now he knows how the guys he defends must feel.

"Our crowd came out nuts today," Moser said after leading the Rebels with 19 points and nine rebounds.

Never underestimate the power of Pabst Blue Ribbon quaffed from 16-ounce cans beginning at around 9 a.m. in the parking lot.

A few seconds after Xavier Thames slipped under duress from Justin Hawkins, precluding the Aztecs from getting a shot that might have won the game, I saw a visiting reporter click off a couple of photos of the last bit of raucousness on his cellphone camera.

"This is as good as anything I've seen the past couple years," said Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports.com, who has genuflected at many of the game's cathedrals, including Cameron Indoor Stadium (and Basilica) at Duke.

Said San Diego State's classy Chase Tapley, who led all scorers with 22 points, about the electric ambiance: "This is when the lights come on if you're a college basketball player."

Though these teams have played some big games here in the past, Tapley said Saturday's crowd was much louder than he remembers it and contributed to a fantastic college basketball atmosphere.

"As good as it gets?" he was asked.

"Close," he said. "But I'd have to say New Mexico is a little better."

Whoa.

After Tuesday's scrimmage at Texas Christian, that just so happens to be where the Rebels are playing Saturday.

As Tapley continued to say nice things about UNLV in the now quiet press tunnel, the Rebels' man of the hour -- or at least man of the final 38 seconds for his clutch play at the end -- came by to shake hands.

It was the second time in the past half-hour that Tapley and Hawkins had told each "nice game" but the first time they actually heard each other say it.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

 

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