When I had a little time to myself, I decided to sit down and gush about something that’s been on my mind for a while and something I’d dedicated a lot of thought to. Needless to say, the Runnin’ Rebels of 2012-2013 will be a brand new, almost transcendent team, and expectations run high. My best guess of what all this means is…it’s just why my expectations are high. I hope you enjoy it. – A.K.
The Runnin’ Rebels were all but dynastic for three decades. UNLV’s 1976 Final Four team, nicknamed the “Hardway Eight” because of their eight-man roster, averaged roughly 120 points per game, before the college game implemented a three-point line.
The Rebels tacked on another Final Four appearance in 1986 in advance of their historic run to the NCAA Championship in 1990. The dominant, fast-paced teams of that era prided themselves on high-scoring affairs.
In the 1990 championship game, UNLV beat Duke by 30 points. The next year, in 1991, the Rebels were undefeated until a Final Four loss to Duke.
Despite being the most successful and beloved sports team in the history of Las Vegas (a town renowned for its failures in professional and minor-league sports), by the year 2000 the memories of UNLV’s monumental rise to the top were merely misty watercolors.
After being slammed with huge NCAA sanctions prior to the 1992 season, as well as the loss of beloved head coach Jerry Tarkanian, the Rebels entered a twelve-year period of, put simply, mediocrity. They appeared in the NCAA Tournament multiple times, but to very little avail.
The modern Runnin’ Rebel fan has only tasted the team’s former success once, when Lon Kruger (now the head coach at Oklahoma) led the Rebels to the Sweet 16 in 2007 and a second-round loss to the Kansas Jayhawks in 2008.
Kruger, who seemed to have completely turned around the UNLV program, took his current job with the Sooners after the 2010-2011 season, which ended with UNLV being routed by Illinois in the first round of March Madness. Kruger’s multi-million dollar contract was announced on April 1, 2011. Most fans thought, falsely, that the announcement was a mean joke put on by the UNLV athletic department.
It wasn’t. Rebel fans fell to a new emotional low, feeling that the team would never be able to replicate the success of the Kruger era.