Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Published Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013 | 6 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013 | 9:08 p.m.
The UNLV basketball team was expected to be a work in progress all season.
After tonight’s 86-65 loss to visiting UC Santa Barbara of the Big West Conference in the second game of the season, the work ahead in building a competitive team appears to be daunting. The Rebels, you see, have that many deficiencies.
They were soundly outplayed on their home court, struggling to find a flow offensively against Santa Barbara’s zone defense and surrendering too many easy baskets on the other end of the court.
There was little doubt from the opening tip of the final outcome. UC Santa Barbara had the better team and it executed on both ends of the court in hanging an ugly defeat on the Rebels (1-1).
UC Santa Barbara big man Alan Williams was as good as advertised, scoring 21 points and out-dueling UNLV’s Khem Birch most of the night. Kyle Boswell had the hot hand for the Gauchos, hitting 5 of 7 of his 3-pointers to finish with 19 points.
UNLV trailed by 16 points at halftime. Within minutes of the second half starting, UC Santa Barbara built its lead to 24 points. Soon, some fans at the Mack starting heading for the exits despite more than 10 minutes remaining; the fans who stayed booed often.
Kendall Smith was one of the lone bright spots for the Rebels. The freshman guard had 13 points on 5 of 6 shooting. Kevin Olekaibe had a team-high 15 points, making 5 of 11 on 3-pointers.
Check back later for full coverage, including comments from coach Dave Rice and players.
Pregame: Rebels, UC Santa Barbara have a history of closely contested games
Make no doubt about it, tonight’s UNLV basketball game against visiting UC Santa Barbara won’t be an easy victory for the Rebels.
Sure, they are favored by nine points, and UC Santa Barbara isn’t exactly a power. But the Big West Conference preseason favorite Gauchos are definitely a formidable opponent with inexperienced players, and more than capable of leaving the Thomas & Mack Center with a win.
In 2010, Santa Barbara did just that, upsetting UNLV 68-62 at the Mack for the Gauchos’ second straight victory against the Rebels in Las Vegas.
The following year in Santa Barbara, UNLV won in double overtime, needing a buzzer-beater heave at the end of the first overtime to escape with a win.
UNLV is looking to build off last Friday’s 67-48 victory against Portland State in the season opener. The Rebels pulled away in the second half, using 13 points and a career-best 17 rebounds from Khem Birch in eventually wearing down Portland State.
Kevin Olekaibe drained a pair of 3-pointers during the second half outburst and Roscoe Smith muscled his way for a double-double. While the Rebels are still very much a work in progress, the improvements in the second half showed the potential is there.
That’s what makes tonight’s game so important. Against the toughest opponent they’ve played in four games — including the two exhibition games — this small step up in competition will provide a perfect measuring stick. And Santa Barbara junior forward Alan Williams could present matchup problems all night, giving the Rebels yet another challenge they have yet to see.
Brewer’s prediction: This game will mirror the Portland State victory with UNLV pulling away late. Rebels 70, UC Santa Barbara 61.