On Thursday, Gaucho head coach Bob Williams again trotted out three freshmen in the starting lineup and for the second game in succession, youth was served as UCSB overcame a nine-point deficit in the final 15:20 en route to an 81-75 win over visiting Boise State in the Big West Conference opener for both teams.
After taking a 25-14 lead with 9:01 to go in the first half, the Gauchos were outscored by the Broncos 25-13 to close the half trailing 39-38. Boise State continued the surge in the second half and when forward Kejuan Woods threw down a dunk with 15:20 to go in the game, they had their biggest lead at 53-44. But then, the Gauchos began chipping away.
Juliano Jordani got things started by hitting an up-and-under layup with 14:37 to go. Mark Hull followed with a breakaway dunk off of a steal to narrow the gap to 53-48. Following a dunk by Clint Hordemann, Jordani was fouled on a follow attempt and he hit both free throws to again make it a five-point game, 55-50.
The teams traded baskets for the next few minutes and when Richard Morgan hit a short fallback jumper with 7:13 to go, the Bronco lead was once again five, 62-57. But that is when the Gauchos started to make their move. Mike Vukovich made back-to-back baskets, the second coming with 6:26 to go in the game and the Boise State lead was cut to one, 62-61. A layup by Delvin Armstrong extended the lead to 64-61 with 5:55 to go. With 5:33 remaining, UCSB freshman Jacoby Atako was fouled, but missed both free throws and the score remained 64-61.
After a turnover and a timeout, UCSB worked the ball to Hull and the junior forward picked the right time to hit his first three-pointer of the game, a 20-footer from the right corner, to tie the score at 64-64 with 4:43 remaining in the game. After a layup by BSU's Morgan, Hull was fouled by Morgan and hit a pair of free throws to knot the score again, 66-66. With 3:48 to go, Hull was fouled again, this time by Armstrong, and again, he nailed both free throws to give UCSB its first lead of the second half, 68-66.
Following another timeout, the Gauchos forced the Broncos into a missed shot. Vukovich came down with the rebound and sent the outlet to freshman Jacoby Atako, who raced up the court. UCSB worked the ball to another freshman, Branduinn Fullove, who drilled his second three-point basket of the game, a 21-footer from just to the left of the top of the key, giving the Gauchos a 71-66 advantage.
Boise State, however, was not cooked yet. They quickly brought the ball down the court and worked it to Armstrong, who had spotted up on the right side of the court, just in front of his own bench. Armstrong drilled a long three-pointer to cut the Gaucho lead to 71-69 with 2:41 left in the game.
UCSB responded to the Armstrong three-pointer by getting the ball in low to Vukovich. The 6-foot-9 junior hit a short jump-hook to make the expand the lead to four, 73-69. The Broncos missed their next shot and it was rebounded by another Gaucho freshman, Nick Jones. Jones was fouled and hit both free throws to make the score 75-69 UCSB with 1:39 remaining.
Boise State continued to send Santa Barbara to the free throw line in the final minute and the Gauchos responded by making 6-of-8 to close out the 81-75 victory.
UCSB was led by junior Mike Vukovich who made 9-of-13 shots from the floor and finished with a career-high 20 points. He also led both teams with nine rebounds. Freshman Branduinn Fullove also went for career-highs of 16 points and seven assists. He made 2-of-4 shots from three-point range. Another freshman, guard Nick Jones, followed-up his career-high 19-point performance in a win over Loyola Marymount on Saturday, with a 15-point, four rebound game against Boise State. Though he scored only two points in the first half, sophomore Mark Hull finished with 13 points and six rebounds. At one point in the second half, he scored seven points in a row to give UCSB its first second half lead. Another freshman, point guard Jacoby Atako, had a career-high nine points.
For the second game in succession, the Gauchos were outstanding from the field. After shooting less than 33.0% in back-to-back losses to St. Mary's and UC Riverside, the Gauchos have now been outstanding from the floor in wins over Loyola Marymount and Boise State. After shooting 52.5% in a win over LMU, UCSB shot a season-best 54.9% from the floor against Boise State. However, while the Broncos shot 47.5% in the game, they made only 37.5% in the second half.
UCSB, which played without senior guard LaRon Bryant who sprained his left knee in practice on Tuesday, is now 4-7 overall and 1-0 in the Big West. Boise State drops to 8-6 overall and 0-1 in league. The Gauchos will return to the court on Thursday, January 11 when they travel to Cal State Fullerton for a 7:00 p.m. game at Titan Gym.