Dec. 20, 2001
Riverside, Calif. -
Last season, the UC Santa Barbara basketball team came to UC Riverside for a non-conference game around Christmas and they were beaten 63-59. In that one, guard Branduinn Fullove made just 1-of-6 shots and scored six points.
The Gauchos returned to Riverside this year, also around Christmas, and that's where the similarity ends.
Fullove scored 18 points, making 5-of-9 shots from the field, including 3-of-6 from three-point range, to lead UCSB to a 68-56 Big West win over the Highlanders on Thursday night. The game was Riverside's first-ever league encounter.
After trailing 4-0 to open the game, the Gauchos took control, outscoring UCR 24-6 to take a 24-10 advantage with 10:13 to go in the first half. The Highlanders were able to cut the gap to 32-25 with 5:42 remaining, but a Mark Hull jumper with six seconds remaining gave UCSB a 37-27 lead at the break. Hull finished the half with team-highs of ten points and five rebounds. Fullove had eight first-half points. Forward Adama Ndiaye, the Big West's top rebounder, committed two early fouls and was limited to five minutes in the first half.
UCSB was able to maintain its lead throughout most of the second half. When Fullove nailed a three-pointer from near the top of the key with 6:27 to go, they had the biggest lead of the night, 61-45. The teams traded baskets with freshman guard Rickey Porter drilling a jumper with 6:02 to go to pull UCR to within 14 at 61-47. Guard Nick Jones, however, matched Porter's bucket with one of his own at the 4:28 mark, but then the Gauchos went cold, going scoreless for the nearly three minutes.
During the three-minute span, UCSB committed three turnovers and missed both of its field goal attempts. The Highlanders cut the gap to 63-56 before Jacoby Atako made 1-of-2 free throws with 1:49 remaining, making it 64-56. UCR did not score again, while Hull hit a layup and B.J. Ward hit a pair of free throws to give UCSB its final 68-56 margin.
"I thought we tightened-up a little bit down the stretch," commented head coach Bob Williams. "We have handled pressure pretty well most of the time this year. Still, I was glad to open league with a win. Winning on the road in league is very important to us, so this was definitely a good way to start."
In addition to Fullove, UCSB had two other players in double-figures. Hull ended with 14 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Ndiaye played 16 minutes in the second half and finished with 11 points, although he had just three rebounds. Jones had seven points, as did forward Bryan Whitehead. For Whitehead, it was a season-high. Atako finished with eight assists and just two turnovers.
"Branduinn hit some big shots for us in the second half," Williams said. "I thought he was very patient tonight. He took the shots that were there and got fouled a few times. We need him to get to the line for us and tonight he got there six times, that was good."
Fullove missed his first free throw, but made his last five.
Williams was also pleased with Whitehead's performance, his best as a Gaucho.
"Bryan really does the type things we need to be successful," he said. "He sets picks, rebounds, defends and is just flat-out tough. Tonight, he also hit some shots, and that's just a bonus."
As a team, the Gauchos entered the game leading the nation in field goal percentage defense at 34.1%. Riverside made 20-of-53 shots, 37.7%. UCSB, on the other hand, made better than 50.0% from the field for the third time in the last three games, drilling 26-of-52. It also marked the sixth time in eight games that the Gauchos limited the opposition to fewer than 60 points.
The win improves UCSB to 6-2 on the season, 1-0 in the Big West. The last time the Gauchos opened with a 6-2 record was during the 1994-95 season. Riverside falls to 2-6 overall, 0-1 in league.
The Gauchos return to league action on the road Saturday when they travel to Cal State Fullerton for a 7:00 p.m. game.