UNLV honors 1977 Runnin’ Rebels at first conference game

By Terrel Emerson | January 2, 2018

Forty years after a 29-3 record and a trip to the Final Four in Atlanta, the UNLV campus and the Rebellion student section welcomed back some familiar faces.


At halftime of UNLV’s first conference game Saturday against Boise State, which ended in a 83-74 loss, members of the 1976-77 Runnin’ Rebels basketball team took center stage.


One of them was former 6-foot-4 shooting guard Sam Smith, who averaged 14.8 points per game that season and also was one of six Rebels that averaged double figures that year.


“I think this team means a lot to Las Vegas, we were the first team that really got things started,” Smith said. “We’ve had some pretty good teams, like that’s a pretty good team out there now. And it’s not fair for the fans to not come out and support them. I’m UNLV for life.”


Legendary Runnin’ Rebels head coach Jerry Tarkanian pictured above with some of his team from 1977. File photo

Guard Reggie Theus and forwards Eddie Owens and Glen Gondrezick all have their jerseys hanging from the rafters at the Thomas & Mack Center.


During that 1976-77 season, UNLV reeled off win streaks of 11 and 12 games, including a crucial win over No. 6 Louisville when the Rebels were ranked No. 10.


“Well one thing about us is we were Independent. So one night we played Notre Dame, one night we’re at UCLA.” Smith said. “I look at the Golden State Warriors right now and they’re playing the same way we played back then, small ball. Our tallest man was 6’10 back then.”


The Runnin’ Rebels would take its journey all the way to the Final Four where they met the North Carolina Tar Heels. While the game started strong for UNLV, they would blow a 10 point lead in the second half.


Guard Tony Smith netted what would be a 3-pointer in today’s game to cut the deficit down to one point. College basketball didn’t adopt the 1979 NBA three point rule until 1986, according to the USA Basketball website.


Speaking of threes, UNLV shot six for 22 behind the three-point line at their Dec. 30 game against the Boise State Broncos.


The shots the Rebels did sink almost add up to Smith’s total for the North Carolina game in 1977. He led the way for the Rebels with 20 points that game. Despite the way the semi final game’s result, he still reflects positively on that season 40 years ago.

“It was just fun, the camaraderie, we worked hard in practice. The game has changed a lot. I mean, I don’t know what’s going on with the world and all the stuff that man in the White House is doing. The way that he has everybody angry at each other but the game has changed, it’s a lot of different personalities,” Smith said.


With just one conference game under the belt of this year’s UNLV basketball team, Smith offered some advice for the young Rebels, who now have a 11-3 record.


“They need a couple of pure shooter. They have the bigs. UNLV usually has the bigs; a couple of pure shooters are going to be on their way. But our biggest problem is most of our kids are one and done instead of staying in for three [years],” he said.


“Just imagine if we had Stephen Zimmerman and those other guys. If all of those guys stay the last three years, we could have at least two championships,” Smith added.

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Final Fourmen's basketballRunnin Rebels

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