Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011 | 2:48 p.m.
- Rebels ranked 18th in Associated Press poll; forward Moser honored again by league (11-27-2011)
- Rebels party like it’s 1990, knock off top-ranked North Carolina (11-27-2011)
- Trying to figure out where the UNLV win against North Carolina ranks all-time (11-27-2011)
- 2011-12 UNLV Men's Basketball Schedule
- All UNLV Men's Basketball Coverage
What a difference a week makes.
When the UNLV basketball team finished its practice Monday at the North Gym on campus, the players were reminded yet again of what they accomplished last week.
The Rebels’ upset victory against then top-ranked North Carolina has put the program back in the spotlight, including coach Dave Rice being interviewed Monday on national radio by Tim Brando and top player Mike Moser earning the ESPN.com national player of the week honors.
For most practices prior to the North Carolina win, two or three reporters would attend and request player interviews at the end of the workout. Monday, all four local television stations took in the practice, leading their newscasts with the hottest story in Las Vegas — the Rebels, the city’s favorite sports team, are again the darlings of winter. The reward of knocking off the nation’s top team came earlier Monday when they were ranked No. 18 in the weekly Associated Press poll.
How long they stay in the rankings will depend on how UNLV plays this week in its first two games outside of Southern Nevada. The Rebels have won seven consecutive games to open the season, but will face a big test Wednesday on the road at UC Santa Barbara and Sunday at Wichita State.
Following Monday’s practice, the players and Rice went from media outlet to media outlet answering questions, likely giving a similar response: “Our next focus is Santa Barbara. The North Carolina game is over with. We have to move to the next game,” said senior Chace Stanback, whose 28 points keyed the signature win against North Carolina.
“Our season isn’t based on one game. It is based on 35. We have to move on to the next one.”
Rice all year has preached to take one game at a time and to not let an outcome — whether negative or positive — linger into preparing for the next game. It’s just easier said than done when the last game is being considered one of the most significant wins in program history.
“We are still really proud of the guys with the effort they gave Saturday night,” Rice said. “A huge win for us, but it is time to move on. That has been our philosophy all year long, to make improvements from game to game. Now we have a huge challenge on Wednesday at Santa Barbara and our guys understand it is time to play.”
By no means will Santa Barbara be an easy opponent — something the Rebels learned the hard way last year.
Santa Barbara already has the attention of the Rebel players thanks to its 68-62 victory at UNLV. The Gauchos made 10-of-19 of their 3-pointers with wings James Nunnally and Orlando Johnson combining for 35 points and 22 rebounds. UNLV struggled in shooting just 29-percent from the field in settling to attack Santa Barbara’s zone defense with outside shots.
Santa Barbara (4-1) is one of the top teams in the Big West Conference, averaging 80 points per game and outscoring opponents by 18.6 points per game. Johnson and Nunnally return as the Gauchos’ top players, with Johnson leading them in scoring (21.4 points per game) and rebounding (7.2). Nunnally is scoring 19.6 points a game.
They are so respected that UNLV, fresh off its nationally televised win against North Carolina, only opened as a four-point betting favorite.
“They were on the same page last year,” Stanback said. “They work hard together and play together. And they really didn’t miss from the outside. Those two guys really got off last year, so we are going to have to contain them.”
Containing Santa Barbara, or Wichita State later in the week, isn’t as daunting of a task as it might have appeared prior to the big win.
“Beating a team like North Carolina on a neutral floor gives us great confidence,” Rice said. “It shows we can compete with the best teams in the country. We have great depth. We got contributions from guys off the bench. We have talked about team from Day One and it was a total team effort to get a victory against a quality North Carolina team.”