In a game that Adama Ndiaye needed to play exceptionally in, the big man came out and dominated like the giant squid against the shortsighted Captain Nemo, portrayed brilliantly by Cal Poly.
The senior center delivered an encore performance Saturday night at Mott Gymnasium against the Mustangs, scoring a career-high 31 points and corralling 13 rebounds in a 74-67 victory for the Gauchos. Cal Poly suffered its first home loss of the season at the hands of a shorthanded Santa Barbara squad.
UCSB was playing without leading scorer and top three-point shooter, starting sophomore guard Branduinn Fullove, and key senior center reserve Mike Vukovich. Fullove suffered a severe contusion on his right thigh during Thursday’s practice. Vukovich was plagued with a subluxation of his right patella last Wednesday.
Sophomore guard Nick Jones filled in for Fullove, scoring seven points and providing hard-nosed defense.
“It felt real nice to start,” Jones said. “I really wanted to bring a lot of energy on the defensive end.”
With only junior point guard B.J. Ward and junior forward Bray Skultety coming off the bench, Ndiaye took center stage and dominated, while making his “first couple shots and getting great position,” Jones said. Ndiaye connected on 13-18 shots and drilled all five of his shots from the charity stripe. Ndiaye also rejected three shots and committed no personal fouls.
Ndiaye’s sidekick, junior forward Mark Hull, was the Gauchos’ second half of the two-man wrecking crew. Hull punched in 22 points while connecting on 4-6 shots from three-point country.
“In the first half, we got kind of lucky – we were feeling it pretty well,” Hull said. “I had a couple open looks at threes and I knocked them down. Adama had a great game overall, too, and he kept it going all game.”
Coupled with Irvine’s stunning implosion at home against Cal State Northridge the same night, Santa Barbara moved within one game of the Anteaters in the Big West standings. UCI blew a 20-point lead to lose its first conference game, 73-72. The Gauchos (11-5, 5-2 in the Big West) have a chance to snatch first place from Irvine this Thursday night at 7 in the Thunderdome.
Ndiaye, who put UCSB on his shoulders, also led the Gauchos during their last game at Pacific. Ndiaye was tearing up the Tigers with 17 points on 5-6 shooting before injuring his shoulder. A week off was all the big man needed to recuperate and turn in a second consecutive awesome performance.
The Mustangs jumped out to an early 16-9 lead with 13:08 left in the opening frame. Yet Ndiaye and Hull went to work on the Stinky ‘Stangs. The duo outscored Cal Poly 34-12 the rest of the half, and combined to score 38 of UCSB’s 43 points at intermission. A 13-0 blitz midway through the first half by the Gauchos resulted in a lead they would never relinquish.
“We just kept feeding the hot hand,” Jones said. “It was all Adama in the first 10 minutes, and in the last three minutes of the first half, Mark got hot. He just blazed it up.”
Two Ndiaye free throws boosted Santa Barbara’s lead to 17 in the first minute of the second half, but the Mustangs huffed their way back into the game.
Cal Poly (9-6, 3-4) galloped to a 10-1 run to cut the Gauchos’ lead to eight, but the opponent couldn’t cut free from the clutches of Santa Barbara. Senior Mustang forward David Henry drilled a trey with 6:42 remaining to bring his team within three, 59-56, with 6:42 remaining in the contest. The stampede would end shortly.
UCSB went off to the races again, running off an 8-0 run. Ndiaye put the exclamation point on the run, and essentially the game, with a thunderous dunk to hand the Gauchos a 67-56 lead with just under three minutes to go.
Up next, it’s hotshot UCI.
“Obviously, it’s a big week for us with Irvine and Long Beach State,” Hull said. “It’s going to be a battle Thursday. We’ll be looking for a big crowd, and hopefully we can win. The games are also in the middle of the year, so win or lose, we’re not out of it.”