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September 22, 2014

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Hunt’s bombs bail out Rebels

Santa Barbara’s game plan works well – with one exception

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – When Jerry Pimm comes up with a game plan, it’s usually pretty sound. All it needs is some execution and UC Santa Barbara will be able to stay in virtually every game it plays.

But when breakdowns occur, and against teams like UNLV they eventually do, the Gauchos become a middle-of-the-pack basketball team.

UCSB did a lot of things well Monday night, but its failure to stop Anderson Hunt in the first half would cost them in falling to the top-raked Rebels 88-71.

Hunt, who is trying to find his consistency from outside, was on target in the Thunderdome. He had a season-high 26 points, 18 of them in the first half, as UNLV struggled to stay ahead of a determined UCSB squad that became the first team this season to stay within 20 points of the Rebels.

Pimm said the plan was to have someone stay with Hunt regardless of where the ball was. In the first half, the plan was abandoned.

“We short-circuited,” he said. “We know how to play him, but we didn’t. Instead of keeping him from spotting up, we went and helped down low. That left him open.”

UCSB’s Bob Erbst said “We were told not to drop down but I think out of habit we did. That’s what we’re used to doing. But we stayed with Hunt in the second half like syrup on pancakes.”

Hunt wasn’t worried. He did what he was supposed to do, which is knock down the open shot from outside.

“The great thing about this team is on any given night, somebody can step up and get 25,” he said. “Tonight just happened to be my night.”

Hunt has been playing with tendonitis in his knees. He refuses to blame his inconsistency on the pain. Instead, he said he’s working on it in practice.

“It’s coming,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’ve been in a slump. I just need to be more consistent.”

UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian was glad to see Hunt shoot the ball with confidence.

“Anderson’s shooting really helped us,” Tarkanian said. “We were sluggish tonight. I don’t know what it was, but for some reason we were mentally or physically tired.

The Gauchos, who fell to 8-7 overall (3-4 in the Big West), became the first team to beat UNLV (14-0, 8-0) on the boards. UCSB held a 49-38 edge in rebounds and the ability of Pimm’s team to effectively box out in the first half kept it close at halftime.

“I thought we were luck to be up by nine at the half,” Tarkanian said of UNLV’s 46-37 lead. “To me it was more like a three-point game.”

The Gauchos did a better job in the second half, but the rebounding took a slide as Larry Johnson, despite four personal fouls, managed to stay on the court and play effectively.

Johnson, who finished with 19 points and 12 boards, picked up his fourth foul with 15:33 to go. Tarkanian quickly pulled him. But Johnson returned less than two minutes later and managed to avoid disqualification.

Meanwhile, Evric Gray was doing a solid job off the bench. Gray who scored 14 points and had four rebounds, helped UNLV control the glass in the second half.

“Evric came in and played real well for us,” Tarkanian said. “He’s been doing a good job coming off the bench.”

Gray, who is from nearby Bloomington, had a nice homecoming.

“It was a good feeling to come back and play well,” he said. Greg (Anthony) is giving me a lot of confidence. He’s telling me to shoot it.”

Gray played three spots on the floor Monday and his versatility was helpful, especially with both George Ackles and Elmore Spencer joining Johnson in foul trouble.

Meanwhile, UNLV’s renewed intensity on the glass caused problems for Santa Barbara.

“They killed us on second shots,” Erbst said. “We did well on initial defense but we didn’t block out as well in the second half. That was the key to our demise.”

UNLV had started out quickly leading 10-0 after 1:57 and was beginning to take The Thunderdome crowd of 6,000 out of the game.

But UCSB circled the wagons, settled down and eventually pulled within two midway through the half.

That was as close as the Gauchos would get. UNLV eventually broke it open with a 16-5 run that put then up 68-49 with 10:12 to go. Johnson managed to stay on the court and grabbed some big rebounds while Hunt hit back-to-back three-pointers to put some distance between the Rebels and UCSB.

“I’m happy to get a win like this, Tarkanian said. “We got outhustled tonight and still won by 17.”

REBELS NOTES

Monday’s win was UNLV’s 25th straight, a school record. …When Spencer fouled out with 4:49 to go, he became only the second UNLV player to be disqualified this year. Gray fouled out in the opening game against Alabama-Birmingham. …Travis Bice returned from a stomach virus but played only two minutes. … Santa Barbara committed a season-high 21 turnovers Monday. On a more positive not for UCSB, center Gary Gray joined the 1,000 point club. Gray needed 12 points coming into Monday’s contest and he had 27 against the Rebels to lead all scorers. …UNLV held Santa Barbara to just 31 percent shooting from the field in the second half after the Gauchos had hit 52 percent from the floor in the first half.

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