UCSB played its best performance of the season last night, coming within a whisker of upsetting the heavily favored UCLA squad in Pauley Pavilion.
The 83-77 loss dropped the Gauchos to 0-4 on the year while the Bruins evened their record at 2-2. Sophomore forward Mark Hull recorded his second career-high in points for the second straight game with 23 points. UCLA forward Jason Kapono scored a game-high 24 points and center Dan Gadzuric contributed 21.
The Bruins capitalized on Santa Barbara senior forward Adama Ndiaye’s injury. UCLA repeatedly fed the ball inside Gadzuric inside for the first eight minutes of the contest to take a 21-10 advantage Gadzuric, who scored 15 of UCLA’s first 19 points, opened the game with a thundering alley-oop from senior guard Earl Watson.
Santa Barbara had early trouble handling the Bruins’ 1-2-2 full-court zone pressure, but eventually broke the pressure with systematic passing and good ball control. The Gauchos then heated up from the field, including three treys from Hull that cut the lead to 31-27 at the 5:40 mark.
Freshman guard Nick Jones hit a wide-open layup with 5:03 remaining and 20 seconds later senior forward Juliano Jordani buried a 17-footer to tie the game for the first time at 31-31. The teams exchanged buckets for the next few minutes until Jones stepped in front of a UCLA inbound pass that led to a huge three from Jordani to give UCSB a 39-36 lead with under 2:00 to go in the half.
Santa Barbara took a 41-38 lead into the locker room, which is the team’s highest halftime point total of the season. UCSB shot a smoking 56 percent in the first half, including 6-10 buckets from beyond the arc. UCLA made only 3-15 three pointers in the half.
The Bruins went back inside to start the second half and quickly recaptured the lead 43-41. However, Hull quickly answered with a jumper and a flurry of lead changes pursued in the following 10 minutes of the contest. With 9:34 remaining, the score stood at 64-63 in UCSB’s favor.
UCLA then went on momentum shifting 9-2 run. Freshman forward Casey Cook knocked down two needed free throws at the 4:11 mark to shrink the lead, 72-68. Santa Barbara forced the Bruins to expire the shot clock on the next possession, but missed two free throws at the other end of the floor. Seconds later Hull missed a layup and UCLA capitalized by hitting two free throws. Cook hit again from the charity stripe to cut the gap to 74-69, but Kapono hit a game-breaking three with 1:40 remaining to crush Gaucho victory hopes.
Jordani and Jones finished with 10 points each for UCSB while guards Jacoby Atako and B.J. Ward both dished out six assists. Santa Barbara was out rebounded 36-24 and once again could not hit clutch free throws down the stretch.