SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Jaimé Serna had 19 points and nine rebounds, James Nunnally scored 15 points and UC Santa Barbara overcame a dismal first half shooting performance to rally for a 60-52 win over visiting UC Riverside in a Big West game Saturday night.
The Gauchos (13-8 overall, 8-3 in the Big West), who moved back into a tie for second-place in the conference, made just 7-of-29 shots in the first half, 24.1%. The Highlanders (11-14 overall, 5-7 in the Big West) weren't much better, making 36.4%, but a 15-foot jumper by Robert Smith as the buzzer sounded, put them ahead at the break, 30-23.
"It's out of the ordinary for us to shoot like we did in the first half," said UCSB head coach Bob Williams. "We just couldn't get anything to fall. I think we're a pretty good three-point shooting team and miss all nine in the first half, that's tough."
In fact, the teams combined to go 1-for-19 from outside the three-point arc in the first 20 minutes. Riverside finished the game at 1-for-13 while the Gauchos were 3-for-15.
In the opening minutes of the second half, UCSB missed two more field goal attempts and committed a turnover while the Highlanders' Elliott Berry scored four of his 11 points, two on a short jumper and two more on free throws, to give his team its biggest lead of the game, 34-23.
That's when the Gauchos started to rally back, scoring seven straight points, three of which came on a three-pointer by Nunnally. It was the first three-pointer for Santa and the lead was shaved to 34-30 with 14:29 to play.
Kyle Boswell, who finished with a career-high six assists, made UCSB's second three-point basket of the game with 9:18 remaining to narrow the lead to 38-37. It was the closest the Gauchos had been since the first basket of the game Riverside a two-point lead, but Phil Martin, who finished with a team-high 17, responded with a driving lay-up to push the score back to 40-37.
After Alan Williams scored on a put-back and UCSB got a defensive stop, Nunnally made his second three-point basket of game to give the Gauchos their first lead of the game, 42-40 with 7:11 left.
The lead was short-lived as Berry sliced into the key and scored on a lay-up to tie the game at 42. Orlando Johnson scored the next four points and Serna made a pair of free throws to give UCSB a 48-42 lead with 4:56 to play. Back-to-back baskets by Martin cut the Gauchos' edge to 48-46, but that was as close as the score would get the rest of the way.
"We didn't make many threes tonight," Williams said, "but I thought the ones we did make were momentum-changers."
Nunnally's 15 points moved him past the 1,500-career point mark. He is the sixth player in school history to surpass the plateau and he now has 1,506.
UCSB made 13-of-28 shots in the second half, 46.4%, to finish at 35.1% for the game. The Gauchos also had their second lowest turnover total of the season with eight. Riverside finished at 38.2% overall and were outscored in the second half, 37-22.
Santa Barbara will go on the road for its next three games before returning home for its final three regular season games. The Gauchos play a 7:00 p.m. game at UC Irvine on Wednesday, Feb. 15. On Saturday, Feb. 18, they travel to Logan, Utah to take-on former Big West rival Utah State in a Sears BracketBuster game. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. (PST).