When Anteaters clean a house full of insects, usually it’s for a good reason. But when the UCSB men’s basketball team was the pesky team fighting for its life in conference standings, it got cleaned right out of its own home.
Irvine (14-2, 6-0 in the Big West) thrashed the Gauchos (5-11, 2-4) 66-56 in front of 2,022 spectators Thursday night at the Thunderdome. UCI senior guard Sean Jackson drilled 6-11 treys in the game, including a sizzling 5-7 in the opening half to pace his team with 20 points. Junior guard Jerry Green poured in a quiet 16 points, also adding six rebounds and four assists in the evening. Senior point guard Malachi Edmond snared 10 rebounds and dished out eight assists for the Anteaters.
"We played extremely hard tonight," UCI Head Coach Pat Douglass said. "They tried to bottle up Jerry Green, but we have good players besides Green who stepped up for us. Overall, I’m pleased with our performance. It’s always satisfying to win a game on the road."
The Anteaters started the game by making three of their first four shots from beyond the arc to take a 9-2 lead with 17:52 to go. The Gauchos attacked Irvine by setting up their defense in a "Box-and-One," which UCSB used to try and shut down the dangerous Green from catching fire. Freshman point guard Jacoby Atako was the primary defender entrusted with chasing Green across the court.
Though Green never found his touch in the game, Irvine made UCSB pay for its defensive tactics with deadly outside shooting and solid ball movement.
"We wanted to contain [Green], and we did," freshman forward Branduinn Fullove said. "It was other players who had to step up and they did. That Jackson kid did a good job tonight, same with Malachi. The others played well, and they filled some big shoes tonight."
Irvine continued its hot touch with 4-6 threes, with Jackson smoking the latest three to extend the Anteaters’ lead 14-6 at 14:18 in the first half. The Gauchos never backed down from the conference’s biggest surprise team, and senior forward Juliano Jordani revitalized UCSB with his intensity.
Jordani muscled his way into the key for a short jumper, got fouled on the play and completed the three-point play to cut the lead 16-12 at 8:56.
"We got good minutes out of Juliano," UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said. "But we need [junior] Mike [Vukovich] to step up."
Vukovich, the team’s starting power forward, made an opening possession hook shot on the right side of the key, and was virtually silenced after his first bucket. Vukovich finished with six points in only 16 minutes of play. Sophomore forward Mark Hull had another quiet evening, finishing with two points on a torpid 1-11 shooting and taking many off-balanced, forced jumpers. Jackson drew the defensive assignment on Hull, limiting the forward’s range and limiting his motion to east-west on the court.
Hull scored a total of six points in the last three halves the Gauchos played. He scored four or fewer points in the second half for the third straight game, going scoreless in two second halves of those games.
"Sean is an excellent defensive player and he really prepares well," Douglass said. "Maybe Mark had an off-night, and maybe Sean did a great job or maybe it was a combination of both."
UCI went on a quick 6-0 tear on treys from Jackson and freshman forward Stanislav Zukzak. Whenever the Gauchos tried tearing into the lead, the Anteaters had an answer, halting UCSB before it could get any momentum swing in its favor.
"We were getting so many open shots, it was surprising to us," Jackson said. "We’ve been playing unselfish basketball, and that’s why we’re winning. Guys rotated the ball to me, and I just hit the shots. It feels good to help the team."
Santa Barbara could not climb out of its hole in the first half, falling behind by as many as 14 points before facing a 36-25 half-time deficit. The closest the Gauchos came in the second half was within nine points. UCI extended its margin at one point to 20, leading 56-36 with 9:02 left in the game.
Green put the nail in the coffin five minutes and 11 seconds early with a resounding dunk after Fullove fumbled the ball, which put Irvine up 58-42 and put UCSB behind it.
A particularly disheartened, but optimistic Bob Williams contemplated the hole the Gauchos have found themselves in.
"What builds confidence is success, and confidence leads to making shots," Williams said. "Our players have to take more responsibility by putting the ball in the hole. [Freshman guard] Nick Jones started to do this [with seven points, five rebounds]."
"These guys will not give up on this season. They won’t give up on the team and they won’t give up on themselves," he said. "This group has the ability to turn around and compete in the Big West and win some games.