The UCSB men’s basketball team could not stand the mire of losing streaks in it’s up and down season, so the team decided to gut another victory.
The Gauchos bore down the stretch to pull out a 59-48 victory over Riverside at the Thunderdome on Saturday to avoid losing their second-straight game after the pounding initiated by Utah State last Thursday. Santa Barbara improved to 10-11 on the season, while the Highlanders fell to 7-14. The Gauchos also dished out some measure of revenge against Riverside after falling to them 63-59 on Dec. 27.
UCSB came out sluggish against UCR by missing 20 of its first 21 shots, with the first bucket coming from junior forward Mike Vukovich’s basket with 18:37 in the first half of action. The Gauchos then went 13 minutes without nailing another shot – missing 18 consecutive baskets.
The Highlanders rolled to an early 17-3 lead bolstered by an earlier 17-1 run ignited by made shots from seven different players. The Gauchos began to get the chinks out of their armor when freshman center J.J. Todd came into the game and nailed two shots at the charity stripe to shrink the lead 17-5 with 6:27 in the opening half.
"We came out flat," Todd said. "When you only score three points in 12 minutes … [we didn’t have the right] energy level. We can’t expect to shoot 70 percent [like] vs. Cal Poly [on Feb. 10] every game."
Freshman point guard Jacoby Atako broke the field goal drought with a 17-foot jump shot with 5:30 in the first half. Atako continued his resurgence by pouring in a career-high 12 points and dishing out three assists. Atako’s bucket helped keep the game in reach for UCSB, where the Gauchos eventually took the lead for good in the second half.
"Jacoby is starting to show some life, scoring the ball," UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said in the Santa Barbara News-Press. "I think that’s helping us a great deal, giving us the fifth scorer a little bit."
Santa Barbara made six of eight field goals to end the half and pulled within three at 25-22. The Gauchos went on a big run of their own, immediately following the Highlander’s run with a 15-2 burst to stir the battle up, 19-18. UCSB was fortunate to be so close after so few of its shots fell, connecting on only 24 percent of their field goals.
"It was good; the way we won this game after scoring three points in the beginning of the game is good way for our team to pull together," senior forward Juliano Jordani said. "It was bad because we were supposed to win this game, but I’m glad the team is pulling together and got the win. It’s good to see how team responds and reacts. It’s good to see J.J. step up. [You have to look at] the positives after a bad performance [vs. Utah State]."
The Gauchos could not take the lead against Riverside for much of the game. Freshman swingman Nick Jones, who struggled with his shot all night, came up big in the clutch for Santa Barbara. Jones hit a lay-up to bring UCSB within one, 40-39, with 8:18 in the second half. Jones then snatched the ball away from Highlander Jason Labagh and hit two free throws after the intentional foul to make the score 41-40 in favor of Santa Barbara with 8:08.
"It was good [to see Jones help us take the lead]," freshman forward Casey Cook said. "Not only did Nick struggle, but a lot of guys were struggling. Good shooters keep shooting and eventually the shots will fall. As long as they fall at some point, we’ll be OK. Luckily, we got back into the game and got back on top."
Jones completed his evening with a game-high 14 points and freshman forward Branduinn Fullove scored 10 points. Along with Atako, the Gauchos had three freshmen score in double figures in the same contest.
"That’s definitely a positive for us now and in the future," sophomore point guard B.J. Ward said. "Jacoby is also shooting the ball better."
The young UCSB squad will now have to go to Cal Poly on Thursday night at 7. After tonight’s performance, the Gauchos seem primed to improve on their performances the past two games and possibly move to the .500 mark for the season.
"Being one game under .500 is a testament to how the team has stuck to it," Todd said. "For us to stick with it and start playing better basketball is really important. Now, our shot is for third place in the Big West, which is pretty respectable."