Santa Barbara, CA – The Gauchos of UC Santa Barbara complete game homestand to kick off the 2011-12 season tonight as they host ranked UNLV Runnin' Rebels in non-conference play at the Thunderdome.
UCSB opened the new season with four straight wins, but the team then tangled with San Diego State over the weekend and bowed in a 76-75 decision. After tonight's battle the Gauchos are off for almost two weeks before they finally head out on the road to challenge the San Diego Toreros on December 13.
As for the Rebels, they rattled off six wins against mediocre programs to start the season, but on Saturday night the team finally hit the big time by taking out top-ranked North Carolina, 90-80, during the Las Vegas Invitational at Orleans Arena. That decision dropped UNC to fifth in the national rankings and sent UNLV into the 18th position on the AP poll.
The victory for the Rebels was their first ever over the Tar Heels and marked the first matchup for UNLV against the top-ranked team in the nation since the same two teams hooked up in the 1985 edition of the Great Alaska Shootout.
UNLV has dominated the overall series between these two teams with 29 wins in 38 opportunities. However, the last four meetings have all gone to the Gauchos, the most recent of those being a 68-62 final last season. UCSB has won six of the 15 matchups played at home since the series began in 1969.
Except for Bryce Massamba who scored just two points in 15 minutes of action while dealing with four trouble, every starter scored in double figures for the Rebels as Chace Stanback led the way with his career-high 28 points, adding 10 rebounds. Mike Moser put together a huge double-double of his own with 16 points and 18 rebounds, adding six assists before he too fouled out. Oscar Bellfield checked in with 16 points and nine assists, followed by Anthony Marshall with 13 points for the victors. One of three players to have started all seven games for the Rebels, Moser has been an absolute beast for the program with 15.1 ppg, 13.7 rpg and 19 steals, all of which lead the program. Thrown in his 23 assists and at the same time overlook his mere 2- of-17 shooting behind the three-point line and it is easy to see why he is a player to watch in the Mountain West Conference this season. Bellfield (13.0 ppg, 37 assists) gives the team a solid presence behind the three-point line (20-of-46).
Jaime Serna could have potentially given the Gauchos a win over San Diego State with just three seconds to play in their meeting over the weekend, but he sank just one of his two free throws and instead sent the game into overtime where the Aztecs held on for the one-point win. Serna finished with a mere five points as he dealt with foul trouble, while Orlando Johnson erupted for a game-high 26 points in the defeat. James Nunnally tacked on 16 points and eight rebounds, but he made just 4-of-15 from the floor and 1-of-6 behind the three-point line as the team converted a mere 7-of-22 out on the perimeter. Although he could use some work on his free-throw shooting (.625), Johnson is still one of the more dominant players in the Big West Conference again this season with his 21.4 ppg and 7.2 rpg, followed by Nunnally with 19.6 ppg and 6.0 rpg of his own. Defensively the team is holding opponents to just 37.8 percent accuracy from the floor and 29.4 percent behind the three- point line.