IRVINE, Calif. – Chris McNealy scored 17 points, including a key three-pointer with just over two minutes to play, to lead UC Irvine to a 71-60 win over visiting UC Santa Barbara on Thursday night.
The Anteaters (19-10 overall, 10-3 in the Big West) are now alone in first-place as they moved past the Gauchos (18-8, 9-4) by a game.
McNealy's big shot came after UCSB made back-to-back three-pointers to whittle a seven-point lead to one.
With UCI leading 61-54, Kyle Boswell made the fourth of his four three-pointers to pull the Gauchos within 61-57 with 3:25 to play in the game. After Eric Childress rebounded an Anteater miss, Michael Bryson drained a long three from the left side and the score was 61-60 with 2:26 left.
Bryson's basket was the last score by UCSB. McNealy made his three-pointer from the right corner to start a 10-0 game-ending run for Irvine, which made five free throws during the stretch.
The Anteaters missed five of their last eight free throws, but that was after they opened the game by making 21-of-22. They finished with a 24-6 edge at the free throw line.
"I thought they were really aggressive tonight and it paid off at the free throw line and in the rebounding," said UCSB head coach Bob Williams. "Give them credit, they played very well tonight."
UCI won the rebound battle by 36-26 margin. It was the first time the Gauchos had been outrebounded in 10 games. They were also hurt at their own free throw line as they made just 6-of-14 attempts.
Santa Barbara fell behind by as many as eight points in the early going (13-5), but a 9-0 run made it 14-13 Gauchos and the game remained close until the Anteaters extended the lead in the final two minutes.
Alan Williams led UCSB with 15 points and six rebounds. Boswell had his best game in recent weeks with 14 points, making 4-of-9 shots from three-point range. Bryson added 11 points while freshman guard Eric Childress had eight points, five assists and a career-high seven rebounds.
Will Davis II had 14 points and eight boards for Irvine, while Luke Nelson had 13 points and Mamadou Ndiaye scored 11.
UCSB remains on the road and will travel to UC Davis on Saturday, Mar. 1 for a 5:00 p.m. game against the Aggies. The game, which is already sold out, will be televised by ESPN2.
The Gauchos return home on Thursday, Mar. 6 for their final home game of the season, a 6:00 p.m. affair against Hawaii. That game will be televised by ESPNU.