TUCSON, Ariz. -- Nevada-Las Vegas coach Jerry Tarkanian was accused of blowing smoke when he repeatedly said he feared meeting Georgetown in the second round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament West Regional.
But Tarkanian wasn't just bluffing. The Hoyas, 10-point underdogs, threw a scare into the defending champions before bowing, 62-54, at the McKale Center on the University of Arizona campus.
The Runnin' Rebels, who stretched their unbeaten streak to 43, advanced to the West semifinals next weekend in Seattle, where they will face Utah, which won a double-overtime thriller over Michigan State, 85-84, in double-overtime.
Nevada-Las Vegas, whose talent often has been compared to that of a professional team in overwhelming its 31 rivals this season, hardly looked invincible yesterday. The Rebels seldom got their fast break in gear, failed to intimidate the Hoyas' freshman guards with their swarming defense, showed poor judgment in protecting big leads and shot 38 percent from the field.
With 2 minutes, 22 seconds remaining, Georgetown (19-13) still was in position to spring an upset, trailing 55-50. But the Hoyas, who, at that moment, lost star forward Alonzo Mourning on fouls, drew no closer.
Las Vegas, which scored its last basket with 5:35 remaining, used the foul line in the closing minutes to keep its unbeaten streak alive.
If anything, the Hoyas' gutty performance raised the hopes of future UNLV tournament rivals.
Said Georgetown coach John Thompson, mindful of his Hoyas' upset loss to Villanova in the 1985 title game,"In a one-game situation like this, it's ridiculous to think any team is invincible.
"The Vegas kids are feeling tremendous pressure with everyone shooting at them. They could still lose one in this tournament, but if you had to play them in a five- or seven-game series like they do in the pros, it wouldn't even be close."
The Hoyas, who battled back from large deficits in both halves, were not in awe of the Rebels, who boast two projected future National Basketball Association lottery picks in forwards Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon.
"The media has painted them as being superhuman like Superman and Batman," Mourning said. "But we kept our composure and made a game of it."
It took two runs by the Rebels in each half to dissuade the Hoyas. The first was a 13-point tear, led by lightning-quick guards Greg Anthony and Anderson Hunt that provided a 26-11 cushion.
Georgetown, slowing down the tempo and trying to work the ball down low to 7-foot Dikembe Mutombo (16 points, nine rebounds) or find seams for open jumpers, whittled this lead to 31-27 in the opening minutes of the second half.
But Johnson, finding it difficult to use his wide body inside against Mutombo and Mourning who limited him to four first-half shots, reluctantly took his game outside.
"That's the first time this season that has happened to me," said Johnson, who finished with a game-high 20 points. "But they had too much size, and my coaches encouraged me to shoot from the perimeter."
The All-America forward followed their advice. He accounted for nine straight Runnin' Rebels points in sparking a 13-2 tear that gave the defending champions a seemingly safe 44-29 spread with 13 minutes left.
But the Hoyas made one last rally. Mutombo scored two baskets inside, and guards Charles Harrison and Lamont Morgan found the range from outside to run off 11 straight points and trim the deficit to 44-40.
After Johnson and Harrison traded shots, the Rebels made their decisive run. First Hunt fired home a three-pointer. Then Las Vegas unleashed its fast break, leading to a breakaway jam by Hunt and an uncontested layup by Augmon. It was enough of a cushion for Tarkanian to stop chewing on his ever-present towel.
"It was really a tough game," he said, "one of the toughest I can remember playing in. Those two offensive runs saved us, but we made it hard on ourselves by forcing things offensively instead of utilizing the clock."
The Rebels also showed a human quality in losing their composure in the final minutes. Johnson was assessed a technical for exchanging words with Mourning after the Hoyas ++ forward fouled out.
"We're really good friends," Johnson said. "Alonzo has come to Las Vegas the past two summers to play ball with us. It was no big thing."
Thompson put it into perspective.
"It's like kids talking trash on the playground," he said. "Let's not make a good game into a hissing contest. Let the kids savor this one for a while."