The desert sun beats down on you. Music blares from sports cars purring down the street. Bright, technicolor lights flash from all directions, peacocking for your patronage. The jingles of slot machines lure you closer, seducing you with the chance of winning big.
Las Vegas, Nevada is anything but subtle.
The 1990 UNLV men’s basketball team embodied the town it inhabited. Fast, flashy, loud, stylish. The Runnin’ Rebels and Sin City was a marriage fit for a lavish wedding at the Graceland Chapel.
Most importantly, that UNLV team was something very few people leave Las Vegas as: winners.
1990 UNLV Rebels Basketball
Head coach Jerry Tarkanian — known as Tark the Shark — brought back an experienced squad entering the 1989-90 season. Senior David Butler, juniors Greg Anthony and Stacey Augmon along with sophomore Anderson Hunt returned after reaching the Elite 8 the previous year. The Runnin’ Rebels also added a key piece in junior All-American Larry Johnson, who transferred in from Odessa College.
Each player brought speed, feisty defense, and a desire to win above all else. They ran and ran and ran on fast breaks to create easy scoring opportunities, while Johnson navigated down low and in space as the focal point of the offense.
UNLV Basketball went 26-5 during the regular season. Once the postseason arrived, the Rebels hit the ground running. They cruised through the Big West Conference Tournament and earned a No. 1 seed in the West Regional of the NCAA Tournament.
The Rebels carried the momentum to the Big Dance and the only real scare was a 69-67 win against Ball State in the Sweet 16. Tarkanian’s team then beat Loyola-Marymount in the Elite 8 and earned a date with Georgia Tech in the national semifinal in Denver. They beat the Yellow Jackets, 90-81, in the Final Four to advance to the national championship game against Duke, where they crushed Bobby Hurley, Christain Laettner and the Blue Devils, 103-73. Hunt was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
The 1990 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels are regarded as one of the greatest college basketball teams of all time. They put on a show, soaring down the court in transition, and harassing opponents on defense.
Scoring was distributed across the team, too. The core five of Butler (15.8), Anthony (11.2), Augmon (14.2), Hunt (15.9), and Johnson (20.6) each were viable offensive options. Johnson, Augmon and Anthony went on to enjoy successful pro careers, too. They were selected first, ninth, and twelfth overall, respectively, in the 1991 NBA Draft.
On top of their NCAA championship success, this team was just fun. The Rebels played with an energy and flair that stirred excitement. High-flying dunks, zipped passes, and alley-oops were a regular part of the program.
This team encapsulated the showmanship of Vegas, which not only earned them the hardware, but also a spot in college basketball history.