Yes, UNLV’s 90-80 victory over then-No. 1 North Carolina on Saturday night at the Orleans Arena was a big deal.
But, remember, there’s a whole lot of season left.
And that ‘whole lot’ gets underway on Wednesday night, when the 18th-ranked Rebels (7-0) travel to the coast to take on UC Santa Barbara (4-1), which should have no trouble grabbing UNLV’s attention.
UNLV is 29-9 all-time against the Gauchos, but the 29 wins mean nothing to the current Rebels, who still have not-so-fond memories of last December’s unsightly 68-62 loss to UCSB at the Thomas & Mack Center.
As UNLV heads on the road for the first time this season, here’s a look at Wednesday’s Starting Five.
1) What went wrong last year?
In a nut, UNLV was a mess offensively last season against UCSB.
The Gauchos played primarily zone defense, and the Rebels’ attempt at busting it was to try and shoot over it. It just so happened that UNLV had one of its worst perimeter-shooting performances of the season that night, going 6-of-29 from deep and blowing several opportunities in the second half to complete a comeback.
“Frustrating,” senior forward Chace Stanback said when asked what he remembered of that night. “Everything was frustrating. That won’t be the case this year. We’ve got a new team, a new coaching staff, we should be fine.
“We’re all trusting each other right now, we’re all confident in each other to make shots, and that’s what we’ve got to do.”
UNLV already has a good amount of experience against zones this year, too, which coach Dave Rice pointed out as a possible edge for his team.
Sophomore forward Mike Moser has proven to be a tough piece for opponents to have in the middle of their zones, forcing them to pay extra attention to him no matter where he is.
“We’re playing with Mike Moser at the high post, then we can swing Chace Stanback and Carlos Lopez in there, and I think our guys are having confidence in our ball movement, and it’s made us a pretty effective zone offensive team,” Rice said.
UNLV is also coming in off of a red-hot 3-point shooting performance, which doesn’t hurt, either. In the upset of UNC, the Rebels hit 13 trifectas.
2) Bellfield hopes to keep rolling
Between scoring 16 points, giving out nine assists, playing lock-down perimeter defense and several other positives, senior guard Oscar Bellfield played arguably the best game of his UNLV career on Saturday night.
Most impressive was the way he continually blew around UNC point guard Kendall Marshall, penetrated the Tar Heels’ defense and repeatedly found open teammates when the defense collapsed. Against a team on Wednesday that will likely show plenty of zone, he’ll have to do that effectively yet again.
Through seven games, Bellfield’s averages of 13 points, 5.3 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game are all on pace to be career bests.
3) The “classic letdown spot”
Just as surprising as it was when North Carolina opened up on Saturday morning as only a 5-point favorite over UNLV is the Rebels in turn opening up as only a 3.5-point favorite over UCSB.
Well, maybe it’s not that surprising.
Yep, this is what’s referred to as the “classic letdown spot.” A surging team secures a landmark win, then goes on the road right after that to face an opponent that many think it should be able to dominate.
If UNLV plays like it did on Saturday on both ends of the floor, well, then yes, it will dominate UCSB.
You get the sense that this UNLV team has its collective head on pretty safe, and you know that UCSB will give its best effort against a nationally-ranked opponent coming into its house. The great unknown is this: How much of Saturday night’s celebration is still lingering in the Rebels’ minds, causing a potential distraction?
4) Moser hungry for the chance
One of the current Rebels who was in the Mack during last year’s ugly meeting with the Gauchos, but wasn’t one of those chucking off-target 3-pointers, was Mike Moser.
Moser was watching from the bench in street clothes while redshirting per NCAA transfer rules.
“It was funny, because out of all the games that we played, I’d say this was the one I most remembered,” he recalled. “Just me remembering that game, it’ll add a little extra for me once we get out there and play.”
He’ll add quite the wrinkle for UCSB to plan against.
Moser was honored for the second straight week on Monday as the Mountain West Conference’s Player of the Week, and so far is averaging 15.1 points, 13.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.7 steals per game.
5) A closer look at UCSB
The Gauchos were one late-game collapse against San Diego State away from a 5-0 start heading into this one, and a strong start from them was expected, as they return several key contributors from a year ago.
The star of the show is 6-foot-5 senior swingman Orlando Johnson. Stanback stepped up big time for the Rebels on the defensive end on Saturday, and will have to do the same here, as he’ll likely see plenty of time on Johnson, who is averaging 21.4 points. 7.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. His running mate up front is fellow senior James Nunnally, who is averaging 19.6 points and six rebounds a contest.
Both are incredibly versatile, and last year they combined to hit five 3-pointers, score 35 points and grab 22 rebounds against the Rebels.
The wild card for UCSB will be junior point guard Nate Garth, who is familiar with UNLV after spending the first two years of his college career as a reserve at New Mexico.
Garth isn’t putting up crazy numbers so far, but he’s doing his job by simply protecting the ball. In five games, he’s only committed five turnovers, with three of them coming in one game.
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