Rebels’ trip to UCSB harkens back to days of Big West battles

It felt like the good old days.

The Thunderdome on the campus of UC Santa Barbara has traditionally been a house of horrors for visiting opponents, UNLV included. Wednesday night’s 94-88 double-overtime victory felt like a throwback to the days when Jerry Tarkanian’s Rebels would head into Santa Barbara for a Big West Conference game and know they were going to get all they could handle.

Remember, the Gauchos were the last team to defeat UNLV’s national champion squad. UCSB won that game in February 1990 before the Rebels ran off 11 straight victories, culminating with their 103-73 domination of Duke in the NCAA title game.

Remembering the days of the Rebels’ reign in the Big West brings back fond memories for those who followed UNLV during those years. The Rebels, playing the role of Goliath, would march into these tiny but frenzied gymnasiums to do battle with David. It was essentially good versus evil, or at least that’s the way it was always portrayed by opposing fans.

Current Rebels assistant coach and former UNLV star Stacey Augmon once was hit by a tennis ball tossed by a spectator in the Gauchos’ student section.

Those were really intimidating and difficult places to compete in. It was at schools such as UCSB, Long Beach State and New Mexico State that Tarkanian’s squads were toughened up, solidifying the “us against the world” mentality they developed.

UNLV’s victory Wednesday night had that same feel to it. The Rebels were once again the villains. UNLV’s name recognition lingers around Big West campuses as though it is still a rival, even though the Rebels haven’t been part of that conference since 1996.

It was great being a Rebel fan in those days, taking the best shot from every team UNLV faced. If Wednesday’s game showed us anything, those days appear to be back. And it feels pretty damn good.