UC Santa Barbara guard James Nunnally didn't even participate in the pregame shootaround and sat out a couple days of practice earlier in the week with a tweaked ankle.
But on the road against 22nd-ranked UNLV, Nunnally came through with 23 points and sank six clutch free throws down the stretch to help the Gauchos pull off the 68-62 upset.
"He's just playing very confidently," UC Santa Barbara coach Bob Williams said by phone late Wednesday night. "There's nobody I'd rather have at the foul line."
Reigning Big West player of the year Orlando Johnson was held to 12 points, but also hauled in 15 rebounds. This season, it's been Nunnally leading the team in scoring as he entered the game averaging 21.9 points to Johnson's 21.4.
"He’s not a sidekick to anybody," Williams said of Nunnally, who was 7-of-12 from the field and played 33 minutes on the bad ankle.
While UCSB shot 50 percent, the Gauchos limited UNLV to 29 percent shooting. That includes a putrid 6-of-29 from 3-point range, with Tre'Von Willis (1-of-7) struggling the most from beyond the arc while making his first start of the season.
UC Santa Barbara is now riding high heading into Saturday's road showdown against unbeaten San Diego State. The school's sports information department can't find any record of having previously played back-to-back road games against ranked teams.
Williams said he believes UNLV and San Diego State are Sweet 16-caliber teams. Of course, his team wouldn't mind another signature nonconference win against a Mountain West Conference team as it hopes to get back to the NCAA tournament.
"We told the [players] there’s an opportunity for us," Williams said.
On Wednesday night in Vegas, it was an opportunity not wasted.