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Tarkanian faces his own legacy _ and wins

January 21, 1997

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) _ Jerry Tarkanian encountered his past, and won.

In his first game against UNLV since being forced out at that school in 1992, Tarkanian faced echoes of his own legacy _ and images similar to those of the school he now coaches, Fresno State.

When he looked at the UNLV bench, he saw a program that he propelled to national prominence in the 1970s and 1980s. He saw an assistant coach, Dave Rice, who once played for Tarkanian at UNLV. He saw a player, Damian Smith, whose father once played for Tarkanian at UNLV.

Fresno State won the game 93-82, moving Tarkanian back into the best winning percentage in major college basketball history.

``I wish I never had to coach against UNLV. I love UNLV and I’ll always love UNLV,″ said Tarkanian, who coached the Rebels for 19 seasons and led them to the 1990 national championship.

Tarkanian was relieved to be done with the emotional throwback. The only game he dreads more is when Fresno State plays at UNLV on Feb. 17.

``I’m glad this game’s behind us,″ Tarkanian said. ``I’m not looking forward to the one down there. If I had my way, I would never play them.″

The game was played at a manic pace that reflected the mix of run-and-gun offense and pressure defense that Tarkanian installed at UNLV and has now imported to Fresno State, his alma mater.

The Bulldogs, who improved to 12-6 overall and 4-0 in the Western Athletic Conference, said they didn’t have to be told what the game meant to Tarkanian.

``Coach never said anything about it all week,″ said center Rahsaan Smith, who had all 15 of his points in the second half. ``But we knew how important it was.″

Tarkanian _ a.k.a. Tark the Shark _ compiled a 509-105 record at UNLV that included four Final Four appearances. By beating the Runnin’ Rebels on Monday, Tarkanian regained the best career winning percentage.

The victory improved Tarkanian’s 26-year major college coaching record to 659-139, an 82.581 percent success rate. Clair Bee won 82.565 percent of his games at Rider and Long Island University in 1929-51.

Tarkanian began the season with the best winning percentage, but dropped below Bee in December and remained second until Monday’s win.

Fans wearing Shark hats screamed their way to a reading of 102 on the sound-activated Tarkmeter in a corner of sold-out Selland Arena when Tarkanian was introduced before the game.

Tarkanian was known for his intensity on the sideline during his days at UNLV. He paced constantly while munching on his trademark white towels.

He has promised himself to remain calmer at Fresno State, and began Monday night’s game looking much like a fan. He leaned back in his chair, his arms cradling his head, as the Bulldogs took a 6-0 lead.

Then the Bulldogs made a defensive mistake, and Tarkanian was on his feet. Just 2:49 into the game, he reached under his chair for a towel _ which had been moistened and folded into sixteenths by a team manager, strictly adhering to the habit the coach has followed for decades.

Tarkanian didn’t have to do much towel biting as Fresno State took a 10-point halftime lead and expanded its margin to 16 points early in the second half. The munching resumed as UNLV cut the lead to one point with 3:49 left.

But Daymond Forney scored four of his career-high 24 points as the Bulldogs used a 7-0 run to regain control, breaking a 16-game UNLV winning streak against Fresno State.

Tarkanian finished the evening with praise for his Fresno State players and pride at UNLV’s play. He even took joy in the play of UNLV’s Smith, who led the Rebels with 20 points.

Smith entered the game averaging 3.6 points a game and hitting just 26 percent of his 3-pointers. But he was 4-of-8 from behind the 3-point line Monday night in the nationally televised game.

Smith is the son of Tony Smith, who played for Tarkanian at UNLV.

``His dad played for me. They used to call him `TV Tony’ because every time we played on TV he had a big game,″ Tarkanian said. ``And Damian did it tonight.″

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