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Full-Court Press

By Paul Arnett

Friday, March 31, 2000

Gators look a lot
like Rebels of ’90

THE charter flight arrived at Stapleton Airport and the only thing on Nevada-Las Vegas head coach Jerry Tarkanian's mind was whether he should exit the plane wearing a cowboy hat.

It's unclear what member of Tark's extended family thought that was a good idea. The first few rows of the jet accommodated his entourage that would have done Mike Tyson proud.

Their main objective as the Rebels touched down in Denver a decade ago was to give a man more comfortable in a wrinkled Rebel T-shirt and baggy sweat pants some sudden style points. But not all the players were buying it.

"Hey Coach, we aren't in Dallas are we?" asked Larry Johnson as Tark modeled the hat for his players.

"I hope not,," Tark replied. "What? You don't like the hat?"

"I thought you was trying to be J.R.," the Big D resident said, which sparked a round of soft handshakes and light laughter among perhaps the most misunderstood team of the 1990s.

"You look good, Coach," Anderson Hunt said, keeping his bright smile handy. He was interrupted by teammate David Butler, who somehow had gained control of a mike.

"This is your pilot, Capt. David Butler," the unsung post player said as the plane pulled into the gate. "Please allow the players and coaches to exit the plane first. We have important business that needs taking care of before we go home."

It was a funny, but prophetic moment for a team that had lost only three times in 1990 -- including at Shaq Daddy's house in Baton Rouge and at UC Santa Barbara's famed Thunderdome. The Rebels wouldn't falter again until the 1991 Final Four semifinals against Duke, a string of 46 consecutive games.

DESPITE an aggressive investigation by the NCAA that included players being suspended two at a time during the regular season for hotel transgressions at the 1989 Maui Classic, UNLV advanced to the Final Four for the second time in four seasons.

But unlike that team that lost to Indiana in the semifinals at New Orleans, this famous fivesome exited McNichols Arena with a national title. To do it, the Rebels had to knock off Kenny Anderson and Georgia Tech, then face the winner of the Duke-Arkansas meeting.

Tark was calling the Hogs because he already beat Arkansas during the regular season. He was afraid of Duke and the Blue Devils' dozen McDonald's All-Americans, but that fear proved unfounded as the Rebels raced to a 103-73 win, the most lopsided victory in a national championship game.

WATCHING Florida at the Maui Invitational this past November, you couldn't help but be reminded of the Rebels' run 10 years ago. Like UNLV, Florida didn't win the island event, but the talent was evident.

The Gators employ a full-court, attacking defense that would make Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony proud. Florida is also deep, athletic and able to create controlled chaos.

There is an air of cockiness that lifted Florida to a narrow win over Butler. On UNLV's road to the national championship, the Rebels were a three-point shot away at the buzzer from being eliminated by Ball State. It rimmed out. Both beat Duke, and neither figured to do so in most folks' eyes.

Granted, Florida head coach Billy Donovan didn't exit the plane this week waving a cowboy hat. But get by North Carolina tomorrow and knock off somebody from the Big Ten on Monday, and the Gators could go out this decade the same way the Rebels came in.

Paul Arnett has been covering sports
for the Star-Bulletin since 1990.

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