SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Sophomore Alan Williams blocked a shot with 30 seconds left, then made a hook shot, was fouled and made a free throw with 7.5 seconds to play, helping UC Santa Barbara to a 74-71 win over visiting UC Irvine on Thursday night.
Williams finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots. Junior Kyle Boswell tied his career-high with a game-high 23 points for the Gauchos, who shot 63.0 percent in the second half. Freshman Taran Brown added 18 points. UCI was led by Daman Starring who had 21 points and five three-point baskets. Alex Young added 18.
"Those were two big plays by Big Al," said head coach Bob Williams. "The block on the defensive end was huge, as was the basket, but the free throw was just as important. It forced them (Irvine) to make a three to tie and it's a lot easier to defend when you know you won't have to defend a drive to the basket."
The Anteaters' (7-8 overall, 1-1 in the Big West) had one last opportunity to tie the score, but Young's three-point attempt from deep in the left corner was blocked and rebounded by UCSB's (5-8 overall, 1-1 in the Big West) Taran Brown to seal the win.
The Gauchos had to overcome two double-digit deficits in the game, which they played without injured starting point guard Nate Garth (ankle).
Irvine jumped out to a 13-3 lead in the opening minutes only to have Santa Barbara go on a 10-0 run to tie the score at 13. The Anteaters then used a 13-0 surge to break a 17-17 tie and assume a 30-17 lead with 4:10 left in the first half. By the end of the half, the Gauchos had cut the lead to five, 37-32, and the rest of the edge was erased early in the second half when they opened the second half on a 7-2 run.
"I thought it was very important that we got the lead down to five at the half," said coach Williams. "That gave us some momentum to start the second half and that was huge."
UCSB ultimately took the lead by as many as eight points. When Boswell made one of his six three-point baskets with 7:37 to play, the score was 65-57, but UCI clawed back, outscoring the Gauchos 7-0 over a three-minute span to tie the score at 71 on a lay-up by Adam Folker with 1:30 left in the game.
On the other end, Williams missed a baseline jumper with 55 seconds to play and the Anteaters rebounded and called timeout. Out of the timeout, they ran a play for Starring, who slashed through the lane and lofted a lay-up that was blocked by Williams with 30 seconds left, setting the stage for his game-winning shot.
In addition to playing without Garth, the Gauchos were without reserve freshman forward Mitch Brewe. Junior T.J. Taylor stepped in for Garth and was outstanding. He had nine points, a career-high eight assists and just two turnovers in a career-high 35 minutes. He made 3-of-4 shots from three-point range giving him 6-of-7 in the last two games.
"Nate (Garth) texted me earlier today and told me he was going to be able to go," Taylor said. "I was ready. I knew it was on me, but I was ready."
"I thought T.J. really stepped-up tonight," Williams said. "He's not used to playing that many minutes and he started to cramp up some, but eight assists and two turnovers tells you how well he played. He is also shooting the ball with confidence and that makes him even better."
After making just 9-of-26 shots in the first half, 34.6%, UCSB hit 17-of-27 in the second half, 63.0%. The Gauchos made 7-of-12 three-point attempts in the second half and 13-of-26 in the game. They had just three turnovers over the final 20 minutes.
UCSB remains at home to host Long Beach State on Saturday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. The game will be televised live on Fox Sports Prime Ticket. Tickets are available from the Ticket Office in the Intercollegiate Athletics Building on campus, by calling 805-893-UCSB (8272) or online by clicking here.