One In A Series
Undated (AP) _ The question posed to the Nevada-Las Vegas basketball team prior to this season: Over how much domain will the Runnin’ Rebels reign?
The Rebels already own their conference, the Pacific Coast Athletic Association. They’ve won it four years in a row.
The Rebels have been the best team west of the Rockies two years running. UNLV was the region’s only team to win an NCAA tournament game last year.
What remains to be seen is how far and wide UNLV will be dominant.
The Rebels, who went 33-5 last year, 16-2 in their conference, are led by senior guard Freddie Banks, who averaged 17.6 points per game a year ago.
Another key players for UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian will be 6-foot-9 senior forward Armon Gilliam, who was third in the PCAA last year in rebounding, and senior point guard Mark Wade, the conference’s top assist man.
″Obviously our seniors must play well for us,″ Tarkanian said. ″They have to play better than last year for us to be super.″
The Runnin’ Rebels figure to be the lone representative from the West Coast strong enough to break into the national Top Ten rankings.
The Pacific-10 Conference, which has been down the past two years, has a number of returning players that figure to lift the level of basketball being played in the conference.
″The conference will be improved this season because we have most of our top players back,″ UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard said.
The team with the most top players back will be California, the preseason favorite in the Pac-10 race.
″Cal has to be the favorite because it has all its players coming back,″ Arizona Coach Lute Olson said. ″But we can challenge for it.″
Cal, which made its first postseason appearance in 26 years last year, has all five starters returning from a team that finished 19-10 overall and third in the Pac-10 at 11-7. Forwards Dave Butler (11.8 ppg) and Leonard Taylor (11.9 ppg) and guard Kevin Johnson figure as the Golden Bears’ three best weapons.
The Olson-coached Arizona Wildcats, surprising conference winners a year ago, will turn to guard Craig McMillan (11.8 ppg) and forward Sean Elliot (15.6 ppg) for a repeat try. Arizona finished 14-4 in the Pac-10, 23-9 overall.
However, the Wildcats will be without their floor leader, guard Steve Kerr, who suffered a knee injury that required reconstructive surgery over the summer and is lost for the season.
Seven-foot center Christian Welp (19.4 ppg, 8.5 ppg) makes a contender of Washington, while sharp-shooter Reggie Miller makes UCLA a longshot.
The Huskies finished second at 13-5 in conference, 19-12 overall last year.
Miller (25.9 ppg) will take advantage the NCAA’s decision to implement a 3- point field goal line as the Bruins try to improve on a 9-9 conference mark, 15-14 overall.
Southern Cal, in its first season under Coach George Raveling, will try to stay in contention with five of last year’s seven top scorers gone. Senior Derrick Dowell (15.5 ppg) is the best returning Trojan.
Sophomore Eric Knox and senior center Jose Ortiz will lead an inexperienced Oregon State team that comes off a 8-10, 12-15 season.
Sophomore guard Todd Lichti (17.2 ppg) and new coach Mike Montgomery lead the way as Stanford tries to improve its 8-10 conference record, 14-16 overall.
Oregon, 6-12, 14-14 a year ago, features guards Anthony Taylor (17.0) and Rick Osborn (10.8).
Senior guard Steve Beck (14.9 ppg) leads Arizona State, 8-10, 14-14, while Washington State, 8-10, 15-16, hopes 6-9 forward Dwayne Sholten emerges as a force inside.
While Nevada-Las Vegas, which has a 64-6 conference record over the past four years, may rule the PCAA, San Jose State and Fullerton State should be improved teams in that league this year.
With last year’s leading scorer, Ricky Berry (18.6 ppg), teaming up with 6-7 junior Reggie Owens, the conference’s top rebounder (8.7 rpg) last year, the Spartans should better their 9-9 conference mark. They figure to finish second behind the Runnin’ Rebels. San Jose wound up 16-12 overall last year.
Fullerton State, 16-16, struggled to 8-12 in conference play, but was racked by injuries a year ago. The Titans have guard Richard Morton (13.3 ppg), center Herman Webster (10.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg), and forward Henry Turner (10.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg). A pair of junior college transfers, forward Derek Jones and point guard Tyrone Ree, also should help the Titans.
New Mexico State, which made the PCAA tournament final after finishing third at 10-8, has four returning starters, led by guard Kenny Travis (15.2 ppg). The Aggies have to overcome the graduation of last year’s high scorer, forward Gilbert Wilburn.
First-year Coach Ron Adams at Fresno State, which tied for sixth in 1985-86 at 8-10, will count heavily on 6-6 swingman Mike Mitchell, last year’s PCAA Freshman of the Year. Adams, who replaces Boyd Grant, also may get help from 6-11 import Rene Ebeltjes, a center for last year’s Dutch national team.
UC Irvine, 12-6, 17-13, will have to find replacements for Tod Murphy and Johnny Rogers if it hopes to finish second again. Guard Scott Brooks (10.3 ppg) is the Anteaters’ top returning starter.
Although Long Beach State, 7-22, finished last at 2-16 a year ago, the 6-10 DeAnthony Langston (11.7 ppg) and a transfer from Nevada-Reno, guard Tony Ronzone, could improve things for the 49ers.
How well forward Domingo Rosario recovers from a broken leg will dictate things at Pacific, 9-9, 17-14 last year. Point guard Kevin Nixon and a pure- shooting 6-5 Reid Newey, who returns after a two-year stint in a Morman mission, will lead Utah State, 8-10, 12-16.
Only forward Khris Fortson (10.1 ppg) returns from a Cal-Santa Barbara starting lineup that finished 7-11, 12-15 overall, a year ago.
The West Coast Athletic Conference has two top players of its own to boast - Pepperdine’s Eric White and Scott Thompson of the University of San Diego.
The Waves will be counting on White (15.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg) to pick up some of the production lost by the graduation of three starters from last year’s conference-championship team. Junior center Levy Middlebrooks is the Waves’ other returning starter.
Thompson, a 7-footer who averaged 14.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots per game last year, could make a contender of the Toreros this season.
Loyola Marymount, second a year ago, has lost its two big guns - Forrest McKenzie and Keith Smith and have only forwards Mark Armstrong and Mike Yoest returning from the starters. Lolola finished 10-4 in conference, 19-11 overall.
The University of San Francisco, getting help from three junior college transfers, should show a big improvement over the 7-21 season a year ago. Guard Keith Jackson, forward Patrick Clardy and center Joe Seager will join point guard Rodney Tention as the Dons’ try to turn things around.
Also figuring to make an impact this season in the WCAC will be Gonzaga’s 6-8 Dale Haaland (9.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg); sophomore Robert Haugen (13.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and guard Paul Robertson (15.8 ppg) of St. Mary’s; and 6-9 Dan Weiss (8.9 ppg) of Santa Clara.
End Adv Fri AMS Nov. 14