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Runnin’ Rebels dominate Las Vegas’ rich NCAA Tournament history

Updated March 15, 2022 - 2:07 pm

When it comes to Las Vegas and the NCAA Tournament, the first thought is of UNLV’s glory teams. As great as the Rebels were, though, they weren’t alone.

Las Vegas has a rich history of producing talent that played deep into March, some making their marks at places other than their hometown university.

We’ve chosen the top five players with local ties who have made the greatest impact in the tournament. We’ve also chosen the top five games that included Las Vegas-area players in integral roles.

It would be simple to just go with all UNLV games, but we took a bigger-picture look to include other schools. OK, one other school. The list still is pretty UNLV heavy.

Top players

1. Greg Anthony, Rancho High School. He was the quarterback of UNLV’s two most famous and best teams, the 1990 and 1991 squads that reached the Final Four.

The ’90 team, of course, won it all, with Anthony making five steals in the 103-73 championship victory over Duke.

UNLV President David Ashley, left, athletic director Mike Hamrick, center, and former UNLV Runn ...
UNLV President David Ashley, left, athletic director Mike Hamrick, center, and former UNLV Runnin' Rebel Greg Anthony unveil Anthony's jersey to retire it at halftime of the UNLV/Dixie State exhibition game Nov. 7 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

2. Zach Collins, Bishop Gorman. He spent just one season at Gonzaga, but it was impactful. The Bulldogs made the 2017 championship game, losing to North Carolina, and Collins’ play in the middle was a major reason why they advanced that far.

In the semifinals against South Carolina, he finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots.

Gonzaga forward Zach Collins (32) dunks the ball over South Carolina's PJ Dozier (15) and Chris ...
Gonzaga forward Zach Collins (32) dunks the ball over South Carolina's PJ Dozier (15) and Chris Silva (30) during the first half in the semifinals of the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament, Saturday, April 1, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

3. Freddie Banks, Valley. He was a key part of the first Rebels team to end the regular season No. 1, their only defeat in 1987 by a point, on the road, to Oklahoma. Then in the tournament, Banks led UNLV to the Final Four.

The Rebels lost 97-93 in the semifinals to eventual national champion Indiana, but Banks made a tournament-record 10 3-pointers in that game.

University of Nevada-Las Vegas guard Freddie Banks (13) gets a hand in the face of Wyoming guar ...
University of Nevada-Las Vegas guard Freddie Banks (13) gets a hand in the face of Wyoming guard Reggie Fox (25) as he looks for someone to pass the ball to during early action in their NCAA West Regional game in Seattle Friday, March 21, 1987. (AP Photo/Jack Smith)

4. Ron Riley, Clark. Opponents of Arizona State focused on stopping Riley, and often not very well. He scored 24 points against Ball State, 21 against Manhattan and 20 against Kentucky as the Sun Devils made the 1995 Sweet 16, their deepest tournament run in 20 years.

No. 1 seed Kentucky ended Arizona State’s season with a 97-73 victory.

Arizona State's Ron Riley (32) controls the ball among Ball State players during NCAA Southeast ...
Arizona State's Ron Riley (32) controls the ball among Ball State players during NCAA Southeastern Regional at the Pyramid in Memphis, Tenn., March 16, 1995. Arizona State defeated Ball State 81-66. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

5. Lionel Hollins, Rancho. Before Riley at Arizona State, there was Hollins, who averaged 15 points over three games in the 1975 NCAA Tournament, helping take the Sun Devils to the Elite Eight. Arizona State hasn’t advanced that far since then.

The Sun Devils beat UNLV 84-81 in the Sweet 16, with Hollins scoring 12 points.

Former UNLV star Lionel Hollins in action in this undated photo. Photo courtesy of Arizona Stat ...
Former UNLV star Lionel Hollins in action in this undated photo. Photo courtesy of Arizona State athletics.

Top games

1. UNLV 103, Duke 73, 1990 national championship. This isn’t at the top of the list because it was dramatic, but it certainly was historic. The margin of victory is still the greatest for any men’s basketball championship game, a performance so impressive and dominant that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said afterward there was nothing his team could’ve done.

2. Duke 79, UNLV 77, 1991 national semifinal. As glorious as the 1990 victory was for the Rebels, this loss was just as bitter. An undefeated Rebels team was even better than the one that cut down the nets a year earlier.

The shocking loss came in UNLV’s last trip to the Final Four.

3. Indiana 97, UNLV 93, 1987 national semifinal. Freddie Banks put on a show with his barrage of 3-pointers, helping the Rebels rally from 14 points down in the first half.

Banks scored 38 points and Armon Gilliam 32, but that was not enough against Indiana, which was led by Steve Alford’s 33 points.

4. UNLV 107, Idaho State 90, 1977 Elite Eight. This was the first Rebels team to make the Final Four, and it was this victory that sent UNLV to Atlanta.

UNLV trailed by a point at halftime against the Bengals, who upset UCLA in the prior round. UNLV then outscored Idaho State 56-38 in the second half to turn the game into a runaway.

5. Gonzaga 77, South Carolina 73, 2017 national semifinal. Zach Collins’ double-double and play as a rim protector helped put the Bulldogs in their first championship game.

Nigel Williams-Goss, a Findlay Prep product, led Gonzaga with 23 points.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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