Thanks to Johnson, UNLV beyond reach in NCAA tourney

It was supposed to be "The Ambush." Instead, it became "The Exclamation Point."

If there was any doubt left as to how good top-ranked Nevada-Las Vegas really is, roughly two weeks before the Runnin' Rebels' coronation begins in the NCAA tournament, it should have been erased Monday night in Las Cruces, N.M., as UNLV dismantled 11th-ranked New Mexico State 86-74.


"They're just an awesome team," New Mexico State coach Neil McCarthy said after the Rebels had smashed his team's 29-game home win streak. "They can beat you in so many ways."

And they used all of them to level New Mexico State and win their 26th in a row this season and their 37th consecutive game since the Aggies, oddly enough, beat them last year.


There were guards Anderson Hunt and Greg Anthony hitting three-pointers like crazy, and forward Stacey Augmon playing superb interior/perimeter defense. And oft-ignored center George Ackles looked like the western version of Cedric Lewis swatting shots away at will.

But the wind that keeps the UNLV ship moving is forward Larry Johnson, who had 18 points by halftime, five baskets on dunks. If he isn't the national Player of the Year, there should be an investigation.

Here's how good UNLV is: In front of as hostile a crowd as it has faced all year, UNLV trailed only in the first two minutes of the game -- just the third time all year it has been behind in any game -- and never let New Mexico State get within eight.

About the only thing that can stop UNLV from garnering back-to-back titles is the NCAA, which, according to ESPN analyst Dick Vitale, has notified Anthony, who is paying his way through school in order to go into business for himself, that he must get out of his T-shirt firm.

In addition, the NCAA will decide this week whether Johnson, Ackles and two reserves will have to sit out games. While staying at a hotel on a recruiting visit, they racked up just over $100 in phone and room service charges and watched a movie.

Perhaps the movie in question was the NCAA Enforcement Division training film: "How to Look Petty Without Even Trying."

But this too shall pass, for the Rebels are going all the way.

* THE NUMBERS DON'T LIE: We promised you a further look at the shooting efficiency percentage a couple of weeks ago, and we hate to break a promise.


For those with short memories, this stat, dreamed up by North Carolina State sports information director Mark Bockelman, purports to measure the value of the three-point shot by determining at what percentage a player would need to shoot to score the same number of points without the trifecta.

The math for the SEP is simple: Take a player's total points and subtract the made foul shots. Then divide that number by two, and the resulting number by the number of attempted field goals. The result is the SEP.

As an example, Maryland's Matt Roe, who has scored 457 points, is shooting 41 percent from the floor. But if there were no three-point line, he would need to shoot 46.9 percent to score the same amount of points, given the number of attempts.

It's no surprise that the Wolfpack, who lead the Atlantic Coast Conference in three-pointers, would have three players who show dramatic jumps from their regular shooting percentage and their SEP.

Here's a list of selected ACC players and their SEPs with their actual percentage in parentheses:

Tom Gugliotta, N.C. State, 61.2 (51.1)


Jon Barry, Georgia Tech, 55.1 (45.5)

Rick Fox, North Carolina, 53.4 (45.4)

Rodney Monroe, N.C. State, 53.4 (45.2)

Chris Corchiani, N.C. State, 53.3 (46.5)

* JUST A LITTLE CONTEXT: Rodney Monroe deserves all the credit imaginable for breaking David Thompson's scoring mark of 2,309 points at North Carolina State. Monroe is a class individual and should dazzle the NBA with his scoring ability next year.

But let's remember that Monroe piled up his points with three advantages that Thompson didn't have. First, Monroe was allowed to play as a freshman, while Thompson could not. There was no three-point line when Thompson played and the dunk was prohibited for most of his career.


Finally, consider this: In Thompson's senior year, he scored 838 points in 28 games. The ACC record for points scored in one season is Dennis Scott's 970, notched last year in Georgia Tech's 35-game drive to the Final Four, and Scott holds the record of 137 successful three-pointers in one season, also achieved last year.

Assuming that Thompson could have hit just half the number of threes that Scott made, he would have scored 1,044 points.

In one season.


* THE PICK IS . . . : Hoping to tap on a familiar well before it goes dry, Fearless Prognosticator, whose 1-1 mark last week brings the seasonal record to 3-4, says 15th-ranked Nebraska will notch a big road win tonight over 12th-ranked Oklahoma State.