After recording two straight wins to start the regular season, the UCSB men’s basketball team will now embark on the historically treacherous road ahead.
Traveling to Las Vegas tonight in order to go up against a University of Nevada, Las Vegas team that holds a 19-1 all-time home record versus the Gauchos (2-0 overall), Santa Barbara hopes to grab its third straight season victory to start the regular season. The last – and only – time the Gauchos posted a win against the Rebels (2-0) on their home court was back in 1988, but Santa Barbara’s most recent victory between the two foes came inside the Thunderdome on a historic February night in 1996 when UNLV was arguably one of the best teams in the nation.
“[UNLV’s] record against us is a little misleading,” junior forward Chris Devine said. “When they played against us in the Big West they were a national caliber team. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves, but we are going in with confidence.”
Tonight, UNLV will look to their dominant shot blocking and stealing capabilities to force turnovers from the Gauchos. The Rebels have out-blocked their opponents 24-9 and grabbed 21 steals, while only giving up eight, on the season.
The Gauchos have improved in the turnover column since last season, however, recording 10 steals per game as opposed to an average of 6.1 per game last year. Santa Barbara will also try to take advantage of UNLV’s sub-par rebounding throughout the game as the Rebels have been out-rebounded by an average of nine a game.
“We’re in great shape,” Devine said. “That was obvious in the San Jose State game when we just pushed through in the second half. With as much sacrifice and time that we’ve put in, it’s contributed more to our chemistry as a team.”
Filling in for the injured Cecil Brown, Devine has impressed Head Coach Bob Williams and will most likely see more time in the three-spot because of it, despite his unfamiliarity with the position. Devine, who will start at the four-spot tonight though, has pulled down a team-high 13 rebounds and is second only to junior guard Alex Harris in points scored per game with 13, while shooting an average of 54.2 percent from the field. Devine fouled out in Santa Barbara’s last game against Montana State, but he was able to provide a spark early on, scoring eight of the Gauchos’ first 12 points.
Harris will continue to pave the way for Santa Barbara after being named Big West Player of the Week for his 25-point performance against San Jose State on Nov. 10. Leading the Gauchos with an average of 23 points per game, Harris has already established himself as a leader for the young Santa Barbara team. Harris’ perfect free throw percentage thus far highlights a Gaucho team that has made 29 of 31 from the line in their first two regular season games.
“We’re as fueled as we have been all season,” Harris said. “We had a great practice [last] night and even though it’s early in the season, it’s definitely a serious game for us.”
Harris, along with the rest of his Gaucho teammates, has been able to post strong second half performances. With 29 of his 46 points coming after the first half, Harris will look to put pressure on a tiring Rebel team in the latter half of play.
“I’ve got to give credit to our conditioning program,” Harris said. “All summer we’ve been running on the track and it’s helped us wear teams down.”