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Archive for Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sin City’s favorite sons

UNLV regains its place among Vegas headliners

March 21, 2007

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— The Stardust hotel, imploded last week, is a pile of rubble, but "Titanic, the Exhibition," is back "by popular demand" at the Tropicana.

Miami Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter may also be sinking fast after allegedly punching a Cincinnati Bengal over blackjack at the Palms.

Danny Gans is playing the Mirage; David Hasselhoff is starring down The Strip in "The Producers."

And, perhaps the biggest news, Nevada Las Vegas basketball has reunited and is taking its act to St. Louis.

There was a time when the "Running Rebels" were as big as anything in Vegas - a bunch of show stoppers.

Yet, UNLV endured a not-so-sweet 16 years between NCAA Tournament victories before breaking new ground last weekend with victories against Georgia Tech and Wisconsin.

UNLV plays Oregon on Friday night in a Midwest Regional semifinal.

Don't look now, but only four more victories to the national title.

"I like this team, I like them a lot," said former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, who still lives in town. "When they were picked to finish sixth in the league I said, 'That's crazy, they're a lot better than that.' This team is playing as well as it can play."

UNLV basketball is back, but it's nothing like before - how could it be?

Gone are days when Tarkanian coached, dined nightly at Piero's, fended off NCAA inquiries, fielded high-octane teams, and the games at the Thomas & Mack Center had the ambience of heavyweight title fights.

People went to see and to be seen, adorned in the appropriate attire.

But, as the Las Vegas Sun noted in February: "Hard hats have replaced high heels on Gucci row."

UNLV basketball is back but these are not: Larry Johnson, your Grandmama's Rebels.

Those UNLV teams produced future NBA stars, whirlwind drama, and one program-

walloping photo of three players with Richard "the Fixer" Perry in a hot tub.

Those UNLV teams featured Johnson, Greg Anthony, Stacey Augmon, Anderson Hunt and plenty of rockets red glare.

"Everybody thought of them as big movie star-type people," said Curtis Terry, a key contributor to this year's UNLV team. "They were the biggest show in town. They went out and put on a show."

This team got to 30-6 quietly. It fought its way up virtually ignored, after being picked to finish in the sock drawer of the Mountain West Conference.

These Rebels are led by a third-year coach, Lon Kruger, who is as much heat deflector as Tarkanian was a lightening rod.

Kruger is the sixth UNLV coach since the embattled Tarkanian left the school in 1992 after 19 years, 509 wins and four Final Four trips.

With last week's NCAA win, Kruger became the first UNLV coach other than Tarkanian to win an NCAA Tournament game; Tark won 30.

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