Rebels survive against Gauchos

The distractions prior to the game bothered Anderson Hunt more than the pressure of making the one-and-one at the end of it.

With David Butler and Greg Anthony sitting this one out because of unpaid telephone bills, Hunt knew the focus would be on him and Larry Johnson in Thursday night's Big West Conference game with UC Santa Barbara.

Hunt responded to the challenge time and time again by hitting key buckets throughout the second half. But his biggest moment came at the foul line with three seconds left. He hit the front end of the one-and-one, then lipped out the second.

Santa Barbara freshman Idris Jones broke out of the pack with the rebound, but dribbled the ball off his foot to secure fifth-ranked UNLV's 69-67 win before an overflow crowd of 19,061 at the Thomas and Mack Center.

"All I was thinking about was making the first one," Hunt said. He finished with 22 points to give UNLV a 14-3 record overall and 8-1 in the league chase. "I thought the second one would be wasy. It just went in and out.

"When he dribbled the ball off his foot, I was glad because we didn't have to do any work. When I heard Greg and David weren't going to play, I knew we were going to have to go 110 percent. Everybody knew it was going to be tough without them."

Butler and Anthony were ruled ineligible to play Thursday afternoon by the NCAA because it was determined they didn't pay a telephone bill from last year. The twosome will be back for the Louisiana State game on Sunday.

That left things up to Hunt, Larry Johnson and a flu-ridden Stacey Augmon - who gutted out 27 minutes on the court when doctors told Jerry Tarkanian Thursday morning he would only be available for limited action.

That changed in a hurry with the loss of Butler and Anthony. Augmon scored only six points, but did a number on Santa Barbara guard Carrick DeHart, who finished with only 11 points. Eric McArthur led the way for the Gauchos with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

UNLV's response to the 6-7 power forward's challenge was Johnson. He carried the Rebels with his play in the paint by scoring 21 points in the first half and 28 for the game. He grabbed 14 rebounds and played 36 hard minutes to set up Hunt's outside game in the pressure-packed moments of the second half.

"They did a great job of denying me the ball in the second half," Johnson said. "That McArthur can really play. He had some nice moves. The distraction of not having David and Greg was tough.

"They kept us pumped up on the sidelines. I didn't know they weren't playing until I got here and didn't see them suiting up."

Ironically, Santa Barbara Coach Jerry Pimm said the loss of UNLV's two starters hurt his team's attitude as well. He said the Gauchos let down a little when they weren't facing UNLV's best.

Pimm also praised Jones, whose two mistakes in the waning seconds cost Santa Barbara the game. The freshman finished with 13 points and hit three key buckets in a row to put the Gauchos up 62-60 with 8:08 left.

But what he'll remember most will be dribbling the ball off his foot and missing a free throw with 15 seconds remaining in the game that could have tied it at 68-68.

"He didn't choke," Pimm said. "The first one was straight; unfortunately it hit the back of the rim and popped out. He made three field goals in a row for us before that. But for a freshman playing in this environment for the first time, it is really tough."

The Rebels played a tough defense that limited Santa Barbara to making only 41 percent of its shots. UNLV connected on only 40 percent of its own, but came up with the key bucket at just the right time.

Stacey Cvijanovich, who didn't play well at times in replacing Anthony at the point, did can a three-pointer to give UNLV a 60-56 advantage midway through the second half.

Jones came back with three straight hoops, then watched Hunt hit a three-pointer and Johnson drive in for a bucket that gave UNLV a 65-62 advantage with 5:35 left.

Santa Barbara regained the lead thanks to McArthur, but another three-pointer by Hunt put the Rebels ahead to stay (68-66) with 3:10 left in the game.

"I thought we played a very tough game," Tarkanian said. "Stacey Augmon played tonight on pure guts and Larry Johnson had an absolutely sensational first half. Our defense in the stretch was great. I thought Santa Barbara defended Johnson well in the second half."

A tired Johnson only scored seven points in the final 20 minutes. Outside of Johnson and Hunt, UNLV's next top scorer was Moses Scurry, who finished with eight. He missed numerous free throws (2 of 7), and could have put the Rebels on top to stay with a crucial one-and-one.

"When I missed that one," Scurry said," I knew I had to work on my free throws in practice. There's no excuse anymore. I'm letting down my teammates at the wrong time."

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