HONOLULU, Hawaii – UC Santa Barbara returned two of its injured players for Thursday night's game at Hawaii and the difference was easy to see. The only question was whether the return of Kyle Boswell and Keegan Hornbuckle would be enough.
Almost, but not quite, as the Rainbow Warriors (17-11 overall 10-6 in the Big West) hung on to edge the Gauchos (8-19 overall, 4-11 in the Big West), 70-66.
As for the returning players, they did their part. Boswell made five three-pointers and scored a career-high 27 points and Hornbuckle played a season-high 21 minutes.
"That was a pretty darn good effort," said UCSB head coach Bob Williams. "We really brought it tonight. Kyle was really good, he kept us going at times when it looked like they might put the game away. At one point he was 5-for-5 from threes and was just outstanding. We never quit in this one and it was a very encouraging game."
The Rainbow Warriors seemed on the verge of breaking things open early in the second half as they pushed a two-point halftime lead to seven. But consecutive three-pointers by T.J. Taylor, a jump hook by Alan Williams and a three-pointer by Boswell put UCSB back on top, 42-40, with 15:16 to play.
The only score over the next 4:06 was a free throw by Hawaii's Isaac Fotu that narrowed the Gaucho lead to 42-41.
UCSB then went to work. At the 11:10 mark, Duke DaRe made a long three-pointer from above the key to make it 45-41. Just over a minute later, Williams hit a pair of free throws to move the lead to 47-41. A turnaround jumper by Vander Joaquin narrowed the edge to 47-43, but Williams responded with two more free throws and a fall away jumper in the middle of the lane to make it 51-43 with 8:37 to play.
Rainbow Warrior guard Jace Tavita made a three-pointer as the shot clock ran down to make it 51-46 Santa Barbara with 8:03 left in the game. Then, after a Gaucho turnover and a media timeout, Joaquin scored on a lay-up and the lead was down to 51-48.
Boswell responded for UCSB as he drained his fifth three-pointer from straight up top and the lead was 54-48 with 6:33 left. Two more free throws by Joaquin and another three by Tavita pulled Hawaii back within 54-53 with 5:31 left in the game, but Boswell then made a long two-pointer from deep in the left corner and it was 56-53 with 5:09 on the clock.
After Williams made 1-of-2 free throws to extend the lead to 57-53, the Rainbow Warriors used Tavita's fifth three, a pair of free throws and a spinning lay-up from Fotu to take their first lead since early in the first half, 60-57 with 1:20 left.
Tavita then made a pair of free throws after a UCSB miss and the score was 62-57. Boswell was fouled shooting a three-pointer and made two of the free throws to make it a 62-59 game with 49 seconds to play.
The Gauchos intentionally fouled Hauns Brereton and he made both free throws with 41 seconds left, pushing the lead to 64-59.
But UCSB wasn't dead yet. Michael Bryson made his third three-pointer of the game with 30.9 seconds to play and it was 64-62.
The Gauchos then committed another intentional foul, sending Joaquin to the line for a pair. Joaquin made both free throws with 21.3 to play and giving his team a 66-62 lead.
Again, Santa Barbara wasn't finished as Boswell used a lift-fake to get Fotu in the air on a three-point attempt. Fotu came down on Boswell sending him to the line for three more free throws with 13.1 remaining. He made all three free throws to make it a 66-65 game.
The Gauchos, pressing fullcourt, forced Hawaii to cal a timeout with 10.7 seconds left. When the Rainbow Warriors did get the ball in, Joaquin was fouled again with 8.4 ticks left on the clock. Joaquin drained both free throws to make it 68-65.
Hawaii intentionally fouled Taylor with 4.8 seconds to play to limit UCSB to two points. Taylor made the first free throw and missed the second on purpose, but the Gauchos couldn't secure the rebound and were forced to foul Joaquin again and again, Joaquin made both free throws to secure the 70-66 win for his team.
Primarily on the strength of a 6-for-15 three-point performance, the Gauchos led by as many as four points in the first half. UCSB, however, went scoreless over the final 5:21 and Hawaii finished the half on a 6-0 run to take a 30-28 lead at the break. Boswell, returning after missing the last two games with a left shoulder injury, made his first three threes and had 12 points in the first half. Shawn Moore also joined in with his first career three-point basket.
Tavita finished with 17 points, making 5-of-6 three-point attempts, and Joaquim finished with 16 points and nine boards. Williams had 14 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two blocked shots and three steals, and Bryson had 11 points for the Gauchos.
UCSB made 12-of-27 three-point attempts in the game and shot 39.5% overall. Hawaii shot 39.6%. The Rainbow Warriors won the battle of the boards, 33-27, but it was a far cry from the 18 rebound margin they had in the first game between the schools in January.
UCSB will return to Big West action to play at Cal State Northridge on Saturday. The Gauchos return home for the final weekend of the season hosting Cal State Fullerton on Thursday, Mar. 7 and UC Riverside on Saturday, Mar. 9. Both games will tip at 7:00 p.m. and tickets can be purchased from the Ticket Office in the Intercollegiate Athletics Building on campus, by calling 805-893-UCSB (8272) or online by clicking here.