Legendary UNLV Runnin' Rebels coach Jerry Tarkanian showed up on press row to catch the nightcap. The Cougars don't have "runnin'" in their name, but that's what they do and that's likely what drew him to the game.
As was the case in their quarterfinal game, the Cougars were at a full sprint from the opening tip. For the first eight minutes they were on pace to score over 100 points. In the first four and a half minutes the Cougars took eight shots, all twos, and made six of them.
The Dons didn't seem ready for the run and gun. They missed their first five field goal attempts, as well as two free throws, to fall behind 8-0. Once they started making shots the whole complexion of the game changed.
Buckets were exchanged in the middle of the half and, thanks to going 5-12 from three, the Dons managed to slowly creep up on the Cougars.
Buckets were exchanged in the middle of the half and, then, words as well. With 6:34 remaining in the half Eric Mika didn't like a jump ball call. He started yelling at the Dons but luckily Dave Rose got him out of the game before he got into trouble.
What in the world is Erik Mika thinking? A technical foul there would have been bad news.— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) March 11, 2014
On the next Cougars' possession Tyler Haws came up short on a jumper. Nate Austin grabbed the rebound but committed a foul in the process. The chippy atmosphere got to Haws, who got in the face of a couple San Francisco players.
San Francisco benefited from the emotion. By pounding the ball inside and shooting well from outside, the Dons were able take their first lead, 31-29, at the 3:41 mark. By the half the Dons held a 37-35 lead.
Neither team managed to put together any kind of run. Up-tempo play was all but forgotten. To put it simply, the second half was just like the end of the first. Well, for at least the first few minutes.
Matt Carlino, a known Dons killer, was almost non-existent in the first half. In eight minutes he scored no points. The second half was a different story. His first points came with 12:36 remaining and he promptly ran his total to nine less than two minutes later.
BYU had the largest lead of the half, five, as a result. The Cougars had all the energy and momentum. Instead of using it to fuel a blowout, they fell into the same trap as the first half: anger.
Fouls built up and the Dons were able to keep the Cougars within striking distance. Coming out of the under-four media timeout they cut the lead to one possession. A wide open, almost completely ignored, Mark Tollefsen knocked down a three from the wing that tied the game at 64.
That bucket came with 3:21 left to play.
San Francisco missed shots and BYU refused to play game management style and opted to continue with their run and gun ways. Nine possessions over six minutes without a bucket.
BYU had the ball with a chance at the last shot in regulation. Finally the Cougars decided to slow down and run a play. The play was a Kyle Collinsworth jumper over the long arms of Mark Tollefsen. Let me rephrase that, into the long arms of Mark Tollefsen.
After not scoring for an eternity to end the second half, BYU scored on its first, second, third and fourth possessions of overtime. Unlike in regulation, the Cougars were driving to the rim to get their points. More often than not, the drives drew fouls. Tyler Haws finished an impressive 14-14 from the line.
San Francisco was stuck at 64 for the first 2:01 of the extra period. Once the Dons started scoring though, it was too little too late. Trading points in the paint wasn't enough to pull even. A pair of Matt Glover free throws with 1:08 remaining cut the BYU lead to two. Matt Carlino answered with a jumper to push it back to four.
Matt Glover promptly drained a three to make it a one point game and start the necessary foul fest.
From the line the Cougars were able to maintain their lead, though they weren't perfect. Anson Winder was fouled with 8.4 seconds remaining and a one point lead. He missed the first but connected on the second. It was then 79-77 BYU.
Avry Holmes, who scored two fast break lay-ups in the final seconds to keep the Dons in it, missed a go ahead three at the buzzer.
Jerry Tarkanian has one more exciting Vegas basketball experience to add to his memory bank.
With the win the Cougars advance to face Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament final, Tuesday at 6:00 PM Pacific on ESPN.