March 6, 2008
NORTHRIDGE, Calif. - Alex Harris scored 25 points and Ivan Elliott added 16, as UC Santa Barbara held-off Cal State Northridge to record an important 77-66 road win on Thursday night. The victory moves the Gauchos (22-7 overall, 11-4 in the Big West) into a tie with the Matadors (19-9 overall, 11-4 in the Big West), and Cal State Fullerton, for first-place in the Big West Conference with one game to play, giving them an opportunity to clinch the number one seed in next week's league tournament with a win at Long Beach State on Saturday night.
UCSB used a 14-2 rally midway through the first half to take a decisive 27-15 lead over Northridge with 8:52 remaining. The lead peaked at 16 when James Powell made a lay-up with 7:00 left. The Matadors pulled to within seven, 43-36, at the half, but the Gauchos scored the first seven points of the second half to extend the lead to back to 14, 50-36 with 16:29 left in the game.
"We finished the first half a little sloppy and they (Northridge) were able to get back into it," began UCSB head coach Bob Williams. "I thought the way we came out in the second half, offensively and defensively, was pivotal."
The Matadors scored six in a row to pull to within eight, 50-42, but another 7-0 Gaucho run made it 57-42 with 11:40 left. The lead remained in double-digits until Josh Jenkins made a 15-foot jumper at the 5:23 mark, pulling his team to within eight, 65-57.
Northridge kept chipping away, but could get no closer than 71-66 on a Deon Tresvant free throw with 1:31 on the clock. The Gauchos sealed the game at the free throw line and on the defensive end. Powell was intentionally fouled and made a pair of free throws with 1:22 to play. After UCSB forced a Matador turnover, Paul Roemer was fouled. He made one out of two to make it an eight-point game with 1:09 remaining.
On the next Northridge possession, Roemer stripped Tresvant of the ball and was fouled. He missed both free throws, but Harris stole the ball from Tremaine Townsend with 49 seconds left. Harris was intentionally fouled and converted both free throws to give UCSB an insurmountable 76-66 lead.
"This was really big for us," Harris said. "After we got off to a slow start early in conference, we never hung our heads. We believed that if we kept working hard, we would have an opportunity to get back into the race, and now we are. As a team, we just have to realize how important Saturday's game is and play with as much focus as we did tonight."
UCSB still needs a win at Long Beach State on Saturday to clinch the top seed and a bye into the semifinals.
The win was the Gauchos sixth consecutive on the road in league play, its eighth in the last nine Big West games, and 22 wins ties the school record for wins in a season, a mark set in 1987-88.
Harris added a team-high seven rebounds, three steals and a pair of assists to his 25 points. Powell and Devine joined Harris and Elliott in double-figures for the Gauchos with 12 and 10 respectively. Nedim Pajevic played one of his best games of the season with seven points and five rebounds in 20 minutes. Tresvant, who scored 31 when Northrdige defeated UCSB in Santa Barbara on Jan. 5, had 25 on Thursday night.
UCSB shot a decent 46.8%, and held the Matadors to just 40.0%. The Gauchos also won the rebounding battle, 34-31, and forced 18 turnovers while committing just 15.
Saturday's regular season finale at Long Beach will tip-off at 4:00 p.m.