UC Santa Barbara-UNLV Preview
It's been over three weeks since UNLV last played at the Thomas & Mack Center and travel fatigue may have played a part in two lackluster second-half efforts in their two most recent games.
The No. 22 Rebels will look to bounce back from their first loss when they host UC Santa Barbara on Wednesday night.
UNLV (9-1) hasn't been on its own court since a 68-65 win over Wisconsin on Nov. 20, playing the last seven games away from home. Three of those contests were at a neutral site in Anaheim and three were true road games.
The Rebels played one game in Las Vegas against Boise State last Wednesday, but it was at the Orleans Arena because the Thomas & Mack Center was being used for the National Rodeo Finals.
"The schedule has been a challenge for our guys," coach Lon Kruger said. "They've handled it very well. ... The guys have made progress."
The long stretch of road games ended with a 77-69 loss to then-No. 24 Louisville on Saturday. The Rebels were outscored 44-31 in the second half, suffering another late letdown. They were outscored 45-34 after the break in their previous game against Boise State.
UNLV has averaged 20 turnovers in its last two games.
"We didn't do the things we have to do to win," Kruger said. "We'll learn from this and pay more attention to details and get back and get better."
Figuring out why the Rebels are blowing early leads will be Kruger's priority as his team returns home after dropping two spots in the AP poll into a tie with Texas.
The performance of Tre'Von Willis was one positive to come out of Saturday's loss. The disappointing second half overshadowed a season-high 17 points from Willis, who has scored in double figures the last three games while shooting 14 of 22, including 4 of 7 from long range.
Willis, who led the Rebels in scoring last season with 17.2 points per game, has come off the bench in all eight games in 2010-11 after missing the first two games for disciplinary reasons.
UNLV returns home to take on the Gauchos (4-3), an NCAA tournament team last season that has been off since beating Santa Clara 80-69 on Dec. 4 for its second straight win. James Nunnally scored a career-high 34 points while Jaime Serna added 11 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks for the junior's first career double-double.
"We just have to keep running the offense," Serna said. "I think if we do that, they sag out and get lazy and things open up inside and outside."
This is the first of back-to-back games against ranked opponents for UC Santa Barbara, which visits No. 11 San Diego State on Saturday.
Nunnally leads Santa Barbara with 21.9 points per game and has averaged 28.3 while shooting 65 percent in the last three contests. Over that stretch he's 10 of 18 from 3-point range.
UNLV leads the series 28-7, but has lost the last three meetings. The Gauchos won 63-60 in 2007 and had another three-point victory a season earlier at the Thomas & Mack Center.