RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Michael Bryson scored 18 points and John Green added 14 off the bench, but the most significant number attached to UC Santa Barbara's 65-55 win at UC Riverside on Thursday night was 300 as Bob Williams became just the third coach in Big West Conference history to record that many victories.
"It's kind of testament to old age," Williams said. "Actually, I've been very fortunate to coach a lot very good players since I got to Santa Barbara and this belongs to them. I am very humbled to be in the same company of some great coaches."
Williams joins UNLV's Jerry Tarkanian and Pacific's Bob Thomason as the only coaches to achieve the feat.
UCSB (12-12 overall, 6-5 in the Big West) led from start-to-finish, but Riverside (13-15, 4-8) was able to whittle an 11-point halftime deficit (29-18) to 32-30 on a lay-up by Gentrey Thomas before the Gauchos restored order, pushing the lead back to 37-30 on a basket by Gabe Vincent and then a three-point play by Green with 14:12 to play.
The Highlanders got to within three three times over the final 14 minutes but never pulled closer as UCSB secured its third straight win, its longest conference winning streak of the season.
As they did in their previous conference win at UC Davis, the Gauchos made most of their free throws down the stretch to hold Riverside at bay. Bryson was a perfect 4-for-4 in second half while Sam Beeler was 5-for-6.
"Most of the year we've been hurt at the free throw line, but in the last two games that's turned around," Williams said. "Michael is always a great free throw shooter, but Sam making his last four was a bonus."
T.J. Taylor, who tied his season-highs with eight points and four assists, ended the first half by going coast-to-coast for a three-pointer at the buzzer, giving the Gauchos their 29-18 lead. The Highlanders really found the going tough offensively in the first 20 minutes as they made just 7-of-28 shots overall and 2-for-16 from three-point range.
"We did a nice job in our zone in the first half and we kind of took them out of their rhythm," Williams. "It didn't help them that they were missing one of their best players, but I thought we did a good job of getting to their shooters."
Taylor Johns, Riverside's second leading scorer and its leading rebounder on the season, did not play on Thursday but no reason was given.
UCR's leading scorer, Jaylen Bland, needed three three-pointers to get to 100 for the season and he hit exactly three but he was just 4-for-15 from the field overall and 3-of-11 from three-point range. As a team, the Highlanders hit just 5-of-27 three-point attempts, 18.5%. UCSB was just 3-for-13 from outside the three-point arc with Taylor making a pair and Green the other.
The Highlanders were led by Secean Johnson who finished with game-highs of 21 points and 10 rebounds. Sam Beeler added eight points and five rebounds for UCSB, which won for the 35th straight time when holding an opponent under 60 points.
The Gauchos will host UC Davis on Saturday night at the Thunderdome with tip-of scheduled for 7:00 p.m.