March 3, 2010
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The script that was read prior to James Powell's final game at the Thunderdome included a reference to the guard's clutch performances throughout his UC Santa Barbara career.
On Wednesday night, it was business as usual for the senior.
Powell made two free throws with 14 seconds to play and UC Irvine missed a last-second 3-point attempt and the Gauchos held on for a 77-74 win on Wednesday night in Santa Barbara. The win gives UCSB (18-9 overall, 12-4 in the Big West) the Big West regular season championship and the top-seed in next week's league tournament.
"I'm so happy for James," said head coach Bob Williams. "He has made so many big shots and free throws for us during his time here and for him to do it in his final home game when it mattered the most, is great."
Powell actually began the play that sent him to the free throw line when he rebounded the missed front-end of a one-and-one by UC Irvine's Patrick Rembert with 15.3 seconds. Powell was immediately fouled before making the game-clinching free throws. Anteater forward Eric Wise, who finished with 22 points, missed the 3-point attempt as time ran out.
"I did a little before the first shot," Powell said when asked if he thought about the fact that tonight was his final home game when he went to the free throw line. "I actually thought I had missed the first one, but it went in and then the second felt real good."
Powell finished with 16 points, including four 3-point baskets, for the game. It was the third time in the last four games that he has made two key free throws in the waning seconds to help the Gauchos to wins. The other two came on Feb. 20 at Fresno State and Feb. 24 against Cal State Northridge.
Powell's free throws rescued UCSB, which gave up most of a 16-point second half lead.
UC Irvine (13-17, 5-10) trailed 47-31 when UCSB's Jaimé Serna made a reverse lay-up with 17:07 left in the game, but battled back, closing to within one twice, the final time on a free throw line jumper by Wise with 28 seconds to play. Following Wise's shot, Gaucho guard Orlando Johnson was fouled by Rembert, but Johnson missed both free throw attempts and then fouled Rembert on the rebound, setting the stage for the last 15.3 seconds.
James Nunnally had 22 points for UCSB, including 13 in the second half. Nunnally also added a game-high seven assists. Johnson had 20 points, including 12 in the first half as the Gauchos took a 37-28 into halftime. Michael Hunter added 18 points for UC Irvine. Santa Barbara shot 57.1% overall and 64.3% (9-of-14) from 3-point range. The Anteaters made 53.8% of their shots and 42.9% from 3-point range.
With the win, the Gauchos finish the season unbeaten at home against Big West opponents for the first time in school history. It was their second regular season league title in three years and, because of a quirk in the schedule, they are now off until they begin play in the semifinals at the Big West Tournament in Anaheim, Calif., on Friday, Mar. 12.
Tickets remain available for the league tournament. For information call (805) 893-UCSB, visit the Ticket Office located inside the Intercollegiate Athletics building on campus or click here to view and/or print a ticket order form.