The conclusion to one of the most uplifting and upsetting NCAA tournaments had little of the drama for which this post-season will be remembered. College basketball's national championship was decided Monday night _ and it was no contest. The Nevada-Las Vegas Runnin' Rebels, long the scourge of college basketball for all their off-court problems, showed just how talented they are on the court with an overwhelming 103-73 victory over Duke at McNichols Arena.
The last five championship games had been decided by a total of 11 points, but Duke never got that close in the game's final 16 minutes.
Along with being the only team to make eight Final Fours without a championship, Duke now has the distinction of being on the losing end of the worst rout in a championship game since UCLA defeated North Carolina 78-55 in 1968. And the 103 points by UNLV was the most ever in a championship game.
"I thought we played about as well as a team can play," said UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, who won his first national title in 22 years as a head coach and brought the school its first championship. "I couldn't be any more proud of this team. They just played so great we just played a great, great ballgame. It was one of those games you dream about."
For the Blue Devils, it was one of those games you have nightmares about. It was their fourth trip to the title game without winning. They failed again because the Rebels were too fast, too quick and too hot. A Duke team that looked amazingly sharp and in condition in its semifinal win Saturday over Arkansas was woefully overmatched.
The Blue Devils shot only 42 percent from the field, but it wasn't necessarily their poor play that contributed to the loss.
"It's obvious UNLV was awesome," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. "It was an incredible display of great basketball by UNLV. Their half-court defense is the best in the country. We couldn't overcome their great defense. And their defense led to a lot of offense.
"They were in control of the game no matter if they had the ball or if they didn't have the ball. They were great. It was beyond what anybody did against us all year.
"I think it was the best a team ever played against me as a coach. I'm in awe. I don't know if you realize how great they were defensively. I don't know if there is anything we could do."
UNLV was led by guard Anderson Hunt, who scored a game-high 29 points on 12-of-16 shooting and was named the Final Four's most valuable player. Forward Larry Johnson, an All-American, added 22 points.
The big factors were UNLV's 61 percent shooting (41-of-67) for the game (including 67 percent in the second half), the 23 turnovers the Rebels caused and the title-game record 16 steals.
The Rebels had a 47-35 halftime lead and were up 57-47 with 16:24 left when they went on an 18-0 run to put the game away and send the large contingent of UNLV fans into a frenzy.
The Blue Devils missed free throws, turned the ball over and had it stolen _ characteristics not associated with a Krzyzewski team.
You knew things would be tough for Duke when Johnson, a 6-foot-7 power forward, connected on a couple of three-pointers in the second half.
And you also knew the Blue Devils would struggle when freshman point guard Bobby Hurley had difficulty penetrating and when he and Phil Henderson couldn't get the ball into Christian Laettner and Alaa Abdelnaby.
The Rebels stole and ran and rebounded and did everything to show they've earned their reputation as one of the premier up-tempo teams in the country.
And considering the preseason academic difficulties of two UNLV players, NCAA suspensions that caused six different players to miss games, and the constant scrutiny of being one of the country's most visible programs, the Rebels had a remarkable year.
"This is the best," Tarkanian said. "All the pressure, the championship on the line, it's absolutely incredible. I just love these kids. They rise to the occasion and play so well. For them to come out and play like this, it's just tremendous.
"When we look back at all the adversity, we thought the season was going down the drain."
Tarkanian's joy could be short-lived. The Rebels are being investigated by the NCAA for alleged recruiting violations and could face NCAA sanctions as early as next month. Tarkanian just concluded a 13-year legal battle with the NCAA, but refused to lash out against the organization for which he has so little regard.
"This is not sweet revenge," he said. "It's just sweet."
This was a game between two highly successful and talented teams known for their vastly different images _ the private, academically elite Duke from the college town in North Carolina against the so-called bad boys from the big-city gambling mecca in Nevada.
It also matched two coaches who have a great deal of respect for one another but whose reputations are separated by miles _ the law-abiding West Point graduate Krzyzewski, whose worst crime is having a name nobody can pronounce; and the NCAA-hounded Tarkanian, whose programs have already been on probation twice.
If the teams do have something in common, it's the way they play defense. Both are known for their pressure man-to-man and their ability to deny the ball to a team's big men inside.
But there was only one team doing that Monday night.
"This has to be the best team that UNLV has ever had," Tarkanian said.
The finish was not as exciting as maybe some fans would have hoped. This tournament had its share of fantastic finishes, including a 69-67 UNLV victory over Ball State. But the Rebels also were the most devastating: They had three 30-point wins among their six tournament victories.