1990 UNLV National Championship Team

UNLV National Championship Team – 30th Anniversary



Once upon a time… That’s how all the legendary stories begin, right?


The stories that are told with heroes, villains, and even monsters all start out that way. For Las Vegans, there is no greater story in the sports world than the 1990 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels national championship team. So in their honor, we’ll start with…


Once upon a time, thirty years ago today, it was April 2nd, 1990. The location is Denver, Colorado, and UNLV is playing in its first-ever (and only) National Championship game. Sure, by this time, they’d already been to the Final Four on three occasions (1990 being the 3rd). Still, legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian at that point had been denied a title game appearance by Dean Smith and Bobby Knight in 1977, and 1987 respectively.

The Hardway Eight and Freddie Banks alongside Armen Gilliam were, of course, legendary in their own right, but the 1990 team is considered by many as the G.O.A.T’s (Greatest of All Time) in the sport for a reason.

Those are our heroes in this tale, and they are the ones who raised the University of Nevada Las Vegas to new heights. Larry Johnson is hands down the greatest Rebel to ever wear scarlet and gray. Greg Anthony, the President of the Young Republicans, is the greatest floor general in school history. Stacey Augmon, aka the Plastic Man, was UNLV’s all-time best defender, and a one-man fast break. Anderson Hunt, the Final Four MOP (Most Outstanding Player), was a pure sniper of a shooter, and a dunking machine. David Butler was the anchor at center, and Moses Scurry, the in-your-face, screaming at the top of his lungs maniac was the support staff off the bench. Those were the men that would lead UNLV to glory.


Who are the villains of this story? Well, that’s easy, it’s Duke.


You know that dirty four-letter word? Just typing the names Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, and Mike Krzyzewski is enough to make the bile rise in my throat, and enough for you as you read the names to feel sick to your stomach, I’m sure. But that’s the way it goes when the Blue Bloods from Durham are mentioned in Las Vegas. As much as none of us like to admit it, that Duke team is right up there with UNLV when it comes to the greatest of all time argument.

Back then, Duke was just beginning to be recognized as the darling of college basketball. Krzyzewski wasn’t quite “Coach K” at that time, but the Blue Devils were from a pristine private school from the south, and UNLV was a commuter school from the City of Sin. The parallels couldn’t have been starker, or obvious to some. The media took the chance to break it down at its basest form, Good vs. Evil, or more succinctly, Black vs. White. That’s what happens when you have a group of young, outgoing African-American men who win, win often and win while oozing with swagger.

Not that Duke backed the narrative, but they didn’t have to. Laettner and Hurley were clean-cut white kids, and the narrative then took on a life of itself. That’s the shame of it, really. It should have been a story championing Jerry Tarkanian, and the successes that he’d enjoyed as the head coach at UNLV. Instead, we meet our monsters of this story.



The NCAA had been investigating Tarkanian dating back to his time at Long Beach State regarding improper benefits for players. That’s where UNLV boosters like Sig Rogich had taken a liking to Tark and courted him to Southern Nevada despite the scrutiny he was under. Tarkanian talked very publicly about the absurdity of the NCAA’s affections for him, citing that LBSU had next to no resources, but was still under investigation. On the other hand, UCLA, a few miles up the road, had Sam Gilbert, a “one-man booster club,” who was known to take very good care of Bruin basketball players under John Wooden.

The attention followed him to UNLV, but Tark never took it lying down. That led to the famous quote from Tarkanian that “the NCAA is so mad at Kentucky they’re gonna give Cleveland State another year of probation.” Selective enforcement was the term on every tongue, and Jerry Tarkanian battled the NCAA tooth and nail over the subject for the length of his storied and turbulent career.


On the night of the game, UNLV made sure that they were going to take out their collective frustration with the NCAA and the press on the hapless Blue Devils.



From the opening tip, the Rebels jumped all over Duke. The Rebels had superior length, athleticism, and they played their typical brand of relentless, pressure defense. Hurley, Laettner, and Krzyzewski didn’t know what hit them. As UNLV got a bunch of steals that turned into run-out dunks, and a transition basketball masterpiece in the first half, Duke limped into the locker room at halftime with stunned faces, and a 12 point deficit.

Tarkanian told his team at the break that Duke was too good to keep down, and that the Rebels should anticipate a Blue Devil comeback in the 2nd half. Well, that never transpired. The game only got more out of hand, and the beating UNLV was giving Krzyzewski’s team only got worse.

The Rebels used a 56 point half to put the game away emphatically, 103-73. Tarkanian was visibly tense on the Rebel bench until only a couple minutes remained in the championship. As the game’s outcome was finally decisive enough for his liking, Tark leaned back in his chair, rested his clasped hands on top of his head, and crossed his feet like he was relaxing on his favorite La-Z Boy recliner. His bulldog-like smile said it all…





“I beat Duke, I beat the NCAA, and my team beat the stereotypes. The 30 point drubbing is to this day the largest margin of victory in an NCAA Tournament championship game.”



Anderson Hunt led all scorers with 29 points. He also hit 4/7 of his three-point attempts. Larry Johnson had a double-double, with 22 points and 11 rebounds. He had 4 steals among his totals as well. Greg Anthony added 13 points and 6 assists, and Stacey Augmon stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points, 7 assists, and 4 rebounds. A total team performance, that saw the UNLV legends dominate the game in every facet.

We all know what happened the year after, so there’s no reason to get into it. Where we’ll leave off is the parade. The city of Las Vegas hadn’t seen anything like it before, or since. Thousands upon thousands of people packed the sidewalks of the Strip. That in and of itself is not uncommon, but this time it was just for the locals. It wasn’t a bunch of meandering tourists there to look at the newest mega-resort; it was the resident Las Vegans there to celebrate what was truly theirs.

The city had had a long-standing love affair with this Runnin’ Rebel program. Final Four appearances, playing at the Convention Center, and then moving to the T&M had all been a part of a long journey that had culminated with this singular, glorious moment. UNLV was National Champions, and our heroes basked in the adulation. Not even the villainous Blue Devils or the monstrous NCAA would be able to take that away from them. That 1990 championship banner will always sway in our rafters, and that UNLV Runnin’ Rebels team will always be the G.O.A.T.

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-Jeff Waddilove – Franchise Sports Media


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