You get the feeling that Greg Anthony, UNLV's point guard, unofficial team spokesman, budding businessman and aspiring U.S. senator, will either wind up on Capitol Hill, whacking legislators on the backside and telling them to pick up the intensity, or in the boardroom at GM, urging his vice-presidents to go out there in the next fiscal year and pretend Ford is up 10 with the ball.
Anthony's method of leadership is to apply constant pressure, not only to UNLV's opponents but also to the Runnin' Rebels themselves. Taking nothing away from forwards Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon, Anthony is the player most responsible for the feared Rebel relentlessness. Johnson is nicknamed the Source, but the title might be better suited to Anthony, from whom all good things flow for UNLV.
That was never more evident than last week in Seattle, where the Rebels engaged in some uncharacteristic hand-wringing while blowing away Utah 83-66 and Seton Hall 77-65 to win the West regional of the NCAA tournament and move on to a second successive Final Four meeting with Duke. Going into the regional, the defending NCAA champions were concerned that they were not smothering teams in the tournament as thoroughly as they had been for most of the regular season. They actually allowed Utah to run its offense, if you can believe that.
"Our intensity has been incredible for most of the year, and right now it's not incredible," said UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian after the Utah game on Thursday. "It's not bad, but it's not incredible. We've got to get that back."
Anthony was more blunt. "Pardon my French," he said, "but we're playing like——."
In truth, the Rebels were not nearly as bad as all that, but they were well off their game. The Rebels aren't satisfied unless they remove all semblance of organization from an opponent's offense. "They want to make you look like third-graders running around at recess," said Utah coach Rick Majerus.
That was pretty much what the No. 1-seeded Rebels did to Seton Hall in the first five minutes of the second half on Saturday. During that stretch, the Rebels served notice that whatever they had lacked earlier in postseason play was back with a vengeance. The Rebels opened with a 14-0 flash flood so devastating that if the calendar had not said late March, the Big East champion Pirates might have been mistaken for one of those Big West patsies.
Anthony, predictably, was the Rebel who put the pedal to the metal, stealing two consecutive inbounds passes that led to a dunk by Johnson and a layin by guard Anderson Hunt. When the blitz was over, the Rebels' tantalizing 39-36 halftime lead was long forgotten, and UNLV was UNLV once again. Johnson finished with 30 points against Seton Hall and was named the Most Outstanding Player in the regional, but Anthony, with 11 assists and five steals, was at least as responsible for revving up the Rebels.
"They just took us out of the game," said Seton Hall coach P.J. Carlesimo. "They wouldn't even allow us to run our break. We literally couldn't make a pass. We were dribbling the ball because we actually could not make a pass."
On Thursday the Pirates had beaten Arizona 81-77 in their regional semifinal, thus denying the second-seeded Wildcats the chance they badly wanted to play UNLV. Several of the Wildcats were annoyed that the Rebels, who had played the first two rounds in Tucson at Arizona's McKale Center, had autographed a basketball that had adorned the wall of the Arizona locker room. The Wildcats brought the ball with them to Seattle as inspiration, but it wasn't enough.
"I think they wanted to play us more than we wanted to play them," said UNLV's Hunt. "We've got nothing to prove to Arizona."
But the Rebels would like to prove to themselves that, next weekend in Indianapolis, they can put together two complete games that resemble their second half against Seton Hall. They haven't played a game that fully pleased them since the end of the regular season, a fact that has been gnawing at the players, especially Anthony. Feeling that the team's difficulties start with him, Anthony had a long discussion about his recent play with assistant coach Ron Adams the night before the Seton Hall game.
"We talked about how I've been a little off my game recently," Anthony said later. "I would see guys wide open down the floor, and I didn't have the confidence to whip the long pass the way I did earlier in the year. That's maybe the difference between getting a dunk off the break or ending up with a jump shot. I took myself out of the game at a couple of points early in the tournament because I felt I was pressing too much. Coach Adams helped put the problem into words."
Adams told Anthony he was demanding too much of himself and urged him to simply relax and play his game.
More often it's Anthony who finds a way to put things into words. He takes the Rebels' mood and gives it a voice. "Greg takes the weight off of us by doing a lot of the talking," says Johnson. "If somebody asks us what makes this team tick, we tell them to go ask Greg so we can go play."
Anthony has a similar role on the court. "This team has always been at its best when we've played instinctively," he says. "I see it as my job to take care of the technical stuff, the analytical stuff on the court, so the other guys can let their basketball instincts take over. When we're not on our game, I take it as more my responsibility than anyone else's."
If the other Final Four teams were beginning to think that the Rebels were not on their game, that impression must surely have faded by now. The question becomes not whether the Rebels will win their second straight championship, but how easily they will do it. UNLV has beaten a big team (Georgetown), a disciplined half-court team (Utah) and a balanced team (Seton Hall). Carlesimo was most likely right when he said on March 20, "If anyone's going to beat them, it's probably going to have to happen in the regionals. If they get to the Final Four, they'll be too focused in. They'll be nasty."