SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — In his first two seasons at UNLV, Chace Stanback never admitted to getting some help from the man upstairs.
On Wednesday night, it was hard to knock the Rebels' senior forward for doing so.
Stanback hit a fadeaway 3-pointer from the right wing in the closing seconds of the first of two overtime periods to tie the game, giving No. 18 UNLV one of its final pushes over the hump in securing a 94-88 victory at UC Santa Barbara.
"We were all desperate and trying to do everything we could," he said. "I was able to get the ball on the rebound, and God put that shot in."
It was an unexpectedly wild finish to a game that UNLV (8-0) appeared to have wrapped up when it lead 69-61 with just under a minute left to play. A series of miscues gave UCSB (4-2) a shot with the ball trailing 71-68 with seven seconds to go.
Instead of giving the Gauchos a shot at a game-tying 3-pointer, Rebels coach Dave Rice had his team commit a foul and send the hosts to the line. After making the first attempt, Orlando Johnson intentionally bricked the second, the rebound tipped out of Anthony Marshall's hands and into those of 7-foot-3 Greg Somogyi, who flipped it in as time expired, sending the 5,516 fans inside the Thunderdome into a frenzy.
"They made a really good play and we couldn't quite secure the ball," Rice said. "My philosophy is to foul, because so many things have to go right for the other team to make up the deficit … But they all did."
Added forward Mike Moser: "I was a little stunned. I think we all kind of got a little frustrated about that, and that was kind of taking us away from the task at hand."
Stanback appeared to make a costly mistake with 13 seconds left in the first overtime frame, when with the score tied at 81-81, he fouled UCSB's James Nunnally on a deep 3-point attempt. Nunnally hit all three free throws, and it set the stage for Stanback's redemption.
Anthony Marshall missed a deep three from straight on with roughly six seconds left, and after it went off of the rim, the Gauchos appeared to give up on the loose ball, figuring that was the Rebels' final attempt.
The carom went to the still-charging Stanback, who took two dribbles back towards his bench and launched a prayer.
"Most of the players kind of gave up on it, but their big guy kind of closed out on me, so I had to try and create a bit of space," he recalled. "I was fortunate enough to have it go in."
Added Moser: "It was a beauty. I almost cried watching that ball go in."
The second overtime was far less dramatic, as Stanback and Marshall produced the offense, and the Rebels double-teams on Johnson at the other end neutralized UCSB's go-to offensive weapon, leading to two key wasted possessions in the final two minutes.
"We learned from the UNR situation, being up 17 (in the second half), we took good shots and they didn't go in, we didn't do a good job defensively getting stops," Rice said. "Certainly, tonight, this will be another (learning) opportunity for us."
When UNLV gets back to town on Thursday and reviews the game film, the lessons to teach will be plenty.
Granted, cold shooting in the first half (11-of-27 from the floor, 2-of-13 from deep) gave UNLV an extra hurdle to clear, but coming off of its best 40-minute effort in Saturday's stunning 90-80 upset of then-No. 1 UNC, the Rebels lost in the hustle department through 20 minutes. Off of 16 missed shots, UNLV only had two offensive boards, and the offense didn't have a ton of flow to it.
In the second half, UNLV relied on Moser for much of its offense, as he scored the team's first 11 points out of the locker room, and 25 of the team's 44 points in the final 20 minutes of regulation. His monster night (a career-high 34 points, 10 rebounds) was highlighted by an out-of-left-field 6-of-9 showing from 3-point range, as UCSB continued to let him squirt free into the right corner for several deep looks.
In claiming Mountain West Player of the Week honors each of the last two weeks, Moser had, at one time or another, dominated games in every facet except from long distance. He was 2-of-17 from 3-point territory in the season's first seven games. And after showing out big-time in the UNC game in front of roughly 40 NBA scouts and executives, another handful were in attendance in Santa Barbara on Wednesday.
"Mike has made huge plays all year long," Rice said. "Most of the time this year, it's been on the boards or in the high post, but tonight, he was really feeling it from three, and he really deserves to make those shots."
Still, he couldn't carry the Rebels all the way to the finish line. Especially not after finding late foul trouble.
That was when Stanback emerged from the abyss that he was stuck in on the offensive end for roughly the first 30 minutes of the game.
A lot of his resurgence late had to do with Moser, actually, who pulled Stanback aside after picking up foul No. 4 and told him that it was time for him to step up. Moser said he'd start looking for Stanback more on the offensive end.
"It's a team effort, it's not just one player, but (Moser) was hot," Stanback said. "We were looking for him while he was hot. And for him to say that to me, that just let me know he had confidence in me to do the same thing."
Stanback finished the night with 19 points off of just 4-of-13 shooting to go with six rebounds. His key stat was a 9-of-10 showing from the free throw line.
The scintillating finish somewhat masked what wasn't really all that pretty of a performance for the Rebels, but finding ways to win like that away from the Thomas & Mack Center are more important than statistical cosmetics.
That's especially true during this portion of the schedule, which takes UNLV to the midwest to face Wichita State (3-2) on Sunday at 1:05 p.m.
"We learned that we've got a crazy target on our back now," Moser said. "Everybody's gunning for us, so we have to step up every night."
Looking deeper …
— While Stanback did step up late, the efforts down the stretch of Anthony Marshall shouldn't be overlooked. Marshall played 45 minutes in the marathon, finishing with 13 points, eight assists and only two turnovers. He was especially strong in the second overtime with his defensive domination of Johnson, who scored 36 points for the Gauchos.
— Some numbers of note: UNLV was 33-of-72 from the floor and 10-of-31 from 3-point range. UNLV was 8-of-18 from deep in the second half and overtimes combined … The Rebels came back to tie things up in the rebounding department, 45-45 … UNLV was 18-of-24 from the free throw line.
— Dave Rice relied heavily on senior Brice Massamba, who came through with a career-high 38 minutes. In that time, he had three points and eight rebounds. While Carlos Lopez's ankle is still healing, he had nine points in nine minutes off of the bench. It was a tough night for the third man in UNLV's center rotation, as Quintrell Thomas registered no stats in only four first-half minutes.