March 5, 2009
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Things didn't look good at the start for UC Santa Barbara in its game against UC Riverside on Thursday night. First, with injuries to guards James Powell and Nick Quick, the Gauchos were entering the game short-handed.
Even more alarming was how they started the game, taking leads of 12-0 and 32-10.
In its last two losses, UCSB had second half leads of 13 and 22, only to lose at Cal State Northridge and Cal State Fullerton respectively. Thursday the Gauchos (14-14 overall and 7-8 in the Big West) led from wire-to-wire, defeating the Highlanders (16-12 overall, 7-8 in the Big West) 66-53.
The win was the sixth in the last seven games for Santa Barbara. Coupled with Cal State Northridge's 99-72 win at UC Davis, moves the Gauchos all the way from eighth-place in the league standings into a tie for fourth-place with Riverside, Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine.
"I'm very proud of this group," said UCSB head coach Bob Williams. "A few weeks ago, everyone was counting us out. We were down, but we were not out. These guys are not quitters."
In the first half, it looked like the Gauchos were going to run away and hide from the Highlanders. D.J. Posley and Will Brew, Jr., combined for 12 points as UCSB took a 12-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.
The lead ballooned to 32-10 before Riverside started clawing back. Kyle Austin took a feed from Sean Cunningham and hit a 15-footer from the baseline with 6:31 to play, completing a 9-0 run and pulling Highlanders within 13, 32-19. But a pair of baskets by Greg Somogyi and one by Chris Devine gave the Gauchos a 6-0 run of their own and pushed the lead back to 38-19.
The lead fluctuated the rest of the first half, and when Chris Devine tipped-in a missed shot with one second left, UCSB took a 42-24 lead into the locker room.
The Highlanders shot well in the first half, making 10-of-19 shots, 52.6%, but UCSB sizzled, making 15-of-26, 57.7%, including 8-of-15 from beyond the three-point line, 53.3%. Brew and fellow-freshman James Nunnally each had eight points in the first 20 minutes while Posley finished with seven.
Javon Borum made a pair of three-pointers and Brandon Dowdy hit one as Riverside outscored the Gauchos 11-2 over the first 7:25 of the second half, whittling the lead to 44-35. A three-pointer by Nunnally, who finished with a game-high 15 points, pushed the edge back to 47-35, but the Highlanders climbed back again, and when Kyle Austin completed a three-point play with a free throw, the advantage was down to six, 49-43.
A three-pointer by Paul Roemer off of a feed from Brew pushed the edge back to nine, 52-43, but Austin responded, drilling a three-pointer from just above the key, making it 52-46 with 8:42 left.
The Gauchos answered again with two consecutive traditional three-point plays from Jaimé Serna. The first, which extended the lead to 55-46, came on a follow of a Devine miss. The second, which came after Austin missed a three on the other end, was set-up by Roemer who penetrated and passed to Serna who was sliding along the baseline. The freshman forward reversed a lay-in and was fouled by Riverside's Konner Veteto. He made the free throw and it was 58-46 UCSB with 7:33 to play.
"That was the most important sequence of the game," Williams said. "Roemer's three was a huge shot, and then the two old-fashioned three-point plays really shifted the momentum back to us and we never gave it back."
The lead never slipped below 11 the rest of the way.
As a team, the Gauchos finished at 49.0% from the field, including 10-of-20 from three-point range. They forced Riverside into 16 turnovers while committing just 12 of their own. Nunnally had four rebounds, four assists and a steal to go along with his 15 points. Posley added 11 points, four assists and three steals. Devine, who entered the game averaging 15.7 per game, was held to eight, but had a game-high 10 rebounds. Austin had 14 points and Borum added 13 to lead the Highlanders.
The Gauchos will play their final home game of the season on Saturday when they host Long Beach State. It will mark the final Thunderdome appearance for UCSB's three seniors, Devine, Posley, and Quick. Tip-off is 7:00 p.m.