March Madness has given way to social distancing amid the coronavirus outbreak, and the Review-Journal has tried to fill some of the void with the ongoing #Whatif tournament series.
UNLV has a rich history at this time of the year, having four times advanced to the Final Four, including in 1990 when the Rebels won it all.
So with basketball — and all sports — on an indefinite break, here’s a look back at those four appearances:
This first Final Four still holds a dear place in the hearts of longtime Rebels supporters. That team, known as the “Hardway Eight,” was responsible for putting UNLV into the national consciousness.
The 3-point line wouldn’t be in the college game for another 10 years, but the Rebels set NCAA records with most points (3,426), 100-point games (23) and consecutive 100-point games (12).
UNLV’s standout players: Reggie Theus, Glen Gondrezick, Robert Smith, Sam Smith, Eddie Owens.
Other Final Four teams: Marquette, North Carolina, North Carolina-Charlotte.
Location: Omni, Atlanta.
How UNLV performed: Lost to North Carolina 84-83 in the semifinals.
The skinny: The Rebels took a 65-55 second-half lead over North Carolina, but ultimately couldn’t overcome Mike O’Koren’s 31 points for the Tar Heels. Sam Smith led the Rebels with 20 points.
North Carolina star player Phil Ford: “Las Vegas could play in the NBA.”
UNLV ended the season ranked No. 1 for the first time. The Rebels’ only loss during the regular season was by a point, 89-88, to Oklahoma.
The NCAA Tournament wasn’t much different, with UNLV mostly blowing through the field to reach the Final Four, though the Rebels almost lost to Iowa. UNLV fell behind by 19 points before rallying for an 84-81 victory in the West Regional final.
UNLV’s standout players: Freddie Banks, Armon Gilliam, Gerald Paddio, Mark Wade, Jarvis Basnight.
Other Final Four teams: Indiana, Providence, Syracuse.
Location: Superdome, New Orleans.
How UNLV performed: Lost to Indiana 97-93 in the semifinals.
The skinny: Steve Alford, long before he became a UNLV coaching nemesis at New Mexico and now UNR, did in the Rebels with a 33-point performance. Banks made 10 of 19 3-pointers for UNLV and had 38 points, and Gilliam scored 32.
UNLV guard Gary Graham: “Damn, I just can’t believe it’s over. We just didn’t have it today.”
The dream season for the Rebels ended with a 30-point victory over Duke in the national championship, still the largest margin of victory in title-game history. That gave the Rebels their first and still only national championship.
UNLV’s closest call during the NCAA Tournament was a 69-67 victory over Ball State in the third round. But the Rebels then routed Loyola Marymount 131-101 to reach the Final Four.
UNLV’s standout players: Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony, Anderson Hunt, David Butler.
Other Final Four teams: Arkansas, Duke, Georgia Tech.
Location: McNichols Arena, Denver.
How UNLV performed: Defeated Georgia Tech 90-81 in the semifinals and Duke 103-73 in the championship game.
The skinny: UNLV trailed by seven points in the semifinals against Georgia Tech before coming back to win. All five starters scored in double figures for the Rebels. That set up the title game, which UNLV blew open with an 18-point run in the second half. Hunt was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four after scoring 29 points. Johnson added 22.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski: “This was one of the great performances I’ve seen on defense. Their defense just would not let us play.”
UNLV had a better team than the 1990 national title squad and was the prohibitive favorite from the season’s opening tipoff. The Rebels lived up to the hype, taking a 34-0 record into the Final Four.
UNLV fans know what happened next. Duke got its revenge from a year earlier by handing the Rebels their first loss. They haven’t returned to the Final Four since.
UNLV’s standout players: Johnson, Augmon, Anthony, Hunt, George Ackles.
Other Final Four teams: Duke, Kansas, North Carolina.
Location: Hoosier Dome, Indianapolis.
How UNLV performed: Lost to Duke 79-77 in the semifinals.
The skinny: Duke showed early this would be no repeat of the previous season by pushing the Rebels throughout. Even so, UNLV led 74-71 when Anthony was called for a questionable charge with 3:51 left, setting the tone for the rest of the game. Hunt scored 29 points for UNLV, and Christian Laettner led the Blue Devils with 28 points.
Anthony: “I still think we are part of history. We’re the greatest team not to win the national championship. I’d rather lose with this team than play on any other team and win.”