The NCAA Tournament comes to Las Vegas in person for the first time in 2023 when T-Mobile Arena will host a regional. But the city’s teams and players have been major factors in the event for many years, making an indelible impact.
Be it the great UNLV teams under Jerry Tarkanian or individual players who grabbed the spotlight in March, the tournament wouldn’t be quite the same without those contributions.
Here are the top five UNLV teams and top five local players to make an impact. Findlay Prep players aren’t included because the list emphasizes those who grew up in the Las Vegas Valley.
1. 1990. Well, of course this team tops the list. It was the only Rebels team to win the national championship. Its 103-73 victory over Duke remains the most lopsided title game in tournament history. The Rebels had only one hiccup in the tournament, surviving a scare in the Sweet 16 against No. 12 seed Ball State before winning 69-67. Four of their victories were by double figures. The national semifinal win over Georgia Tech was by nine points.
2. 1991. This Rebels blew through the field to take a 34-0 record into the Final Four, sparking discussions of whether this was the greatest college basketball team of all time. But UNLV’s dream season ended with a shocking 79-77 loss to Duke. A late questionable charge on Greg Anthony deprived the Rebels of their point guard and shifted the momentum.
3. 1977. This team put UNLV on the basketball map. This was the school’s first Final Four team, establishing an expectation of the success to come. UNLV set NCAA records for most points in a season (3,426), most 100-point games (23) and most consecutive 100-point games (12).
4. 1987. This was the first UNLV team to end the regular season ranked No. 1, its only loss was by a point to Oklahoma. The Rebels reached the Final Four. In the national semifinal against Indiana, Freddie Banks made a tournament record 10 3-pointers, but the Hoosiers prevailed 97-93.
5. 2007. The only team on this list not coached by Tarkanian, Lon Kruger — with son, Kevin, playing point guard — advanced to the Sweet 16 with close victories over Georgia Tech and Wisconsin. The regional semifinal was close only at the end, the Rebels falling 76-72 to Oregon after being down 17 points.
1. Greg Anthony, Rancho. He ran the Rebels’ offense that reached the Final Four in 1990 and 1991. Anthony was expert at distributing the ball to an all-star lineup that included Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon. He also was tough defensively, making five steals each in the 1990 title game against Duke and in the 1991 Elite Eight game against Seton Hall.
2. Zach Collins, Bishop Gorman. In his one season at Gonzaga, Collins was instrumental in the Bulldogs advancing to the 2017 championship game, where they lost to North Carolina. He blocked 18 shots over six games, and in the semifinals against South Carolina, Collins totaled 14 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks.
3. Lionel Hollins, Rancho. He led Arizona State to an unlikely appearance in the 1975 Elite Eight, the last time the Sun Devils advanced that far. Hollins averaged 15 points in three tournament games, scoring 12 points in a Sweet 16 victory over UNLV.
4. Sam Smith, Clark. Known as “Sudden” Sam Smith, he reached double figures in four of UNLV’s five tournament games in 1977, helping the Rebels reach their first Final Four. The year before, Smith scored 16 points against Boise State and 26 against Arizona in the two tournament games.
5. Billy White, Green Valley. San Diego State made the Sweet 16 in White’s senior season in 2011, losing to ninth-ranked Connecticut by seven points. He had double-doubles in the first two tournament games — 12 points and 13 rebounds against Northern Colorado and 16 and 13 against Temple. White scored 14 points against UConn.