The Gauchos recently added a new slogan to their season: Team Overboard.
The UCSB men’s basketball team didn’t jump ship, but Santa Barbara fruitlessly witnessed the momentum of a one-point halftime lead, a raucous crowd of 5,000-plus fans and Irvine star Jerry Green’s early impotence wash away.
The Anteaters connected on 6-7 three-pointers during a pivotal six-minute stretch of the second half, sinking UCSB’s ship in an 81-70 washout. Green, the catalyst, playmaker and rally-killing guard, scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half. The senior punched in UCI’s first ten points in the second half before dishing off one of his career-high 11 assists to guard Mike Hood for three.
“It was one of our better ballgames,” UCI Head Coach Pat Douglass said. “The Gauchos have been playing excellent basketball all year, and it was a big ballgame.”
Irvine (14-5, 7-1 in the Big West) became the first team to shoot over 50 percent in a game against UCSB, blitzing its hosts with 54 percent over the course of the game and a sizzling 64 percent in the second half. Santa Barbara came into the game with the third best defensive shooting percentage defense in the country, allowing under 37 percent shooting on the year.
“We knew it was going to be a close game, but fortunately we got hot,” Douglass said. “When you get hot like that, you can compete with anybody.”
Green overshadowed a stellar and gutsy game from sophomore guard Nick Jones starting in place of a hampered Branduinn Fullove, a sophomore. Jones, the only active Gaucho to shoot around after Wednesday’s practice, finished with a career-high 23 points to lead all scorers. Jones was 11-15 from the free-throw line and 4-7 from three-point country.
Jones was the only player who consistently lunged for the basketball on both defense and offense. All five of his rebounds were on the offensive glass.
“I just got the mentality to take it to the hole and get fouled,” Jones said.
The first half was a back-and-forth battle between two teams vying for first place in the Big West. 10 lead changes and four ties highlighted a riveting opening frame. Excluding a brief two-minute span where UCSB (11-6, 5-3) led by five and seven points, neither team surged ahead by more than four.
Sophomore point guard Jacoby Atako started the game guarding Green relatively effectively. Atako often steered Green into the bulky towers of sophomore forward Bryan Whitehead and senior center Adama Ndiaye, forcing Green into a poor shot or a pass. Yet Green found a way to contribute, dishing for five assists despite his 1-6 pancake from the field.
“In the first half, Green didn’t hit too many shots, and he didn’t find his rhythm until the second half,” Atako said.
In the locker room, someone must have told Green that Los Angeles Laker scout Bill Bertka was in attendance. Green, the Big West Player of the Year in 2001, sent UCSB sprawling off the gangplank, showcasing his talents at the expense of the out of-synch Gauchos.
Green began the half by stealing the ball and coasting for a layup. After a Whitehead bucket, Green saddled up a three. Ndiaye responded with a hook shot. Green countered with another trey and a baseline jumper.
“I was just trying to get open shots,” Green said. “I struggled a little bit first half, but I told myself in second half, I need to get some shots, see what happens. I think I hit two straight threes, and that kind of rallied my teammates.”
After Ndiaye’s hook, the Gauchos didn’t hit a field goal again for the next 13:18 of the half. In that span, Irvine’s role players hit clutch shot after clutch shot to build a lead that climaxed at 18 points with 4:28 remaining in the game.
Even a technical foul on Douglass didn’t shift the momentum. Douglass left the bench and walked at least 15 feet on the middle of the floor before getting T’d up with 13:49 remaining. Forward Stanislav Zuzak hit two consecutive long bombs to quiet the anxious crowd. A dunk by forward Matt Okoro and free throws by Green completed the run for a 69-51 lead.
“We just didn’t respond,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said. “They just kept scoring and we didn’t respond. We let their penetration bother us.”
The Gauchos were also wretched from the line, going 23-36 for a meager 64 percent. Other than Jones’ ferocity, the only other star to play well was Ndiaye, who finished with 14 points and two blocked shots.
The loss was the second straight at home for UCSB after falling to Utah State on Jan.5.
“Irvine came out in the second half playing almost perfect,” Williams said. “They made good, solid basketball plays down the stretch. They’re a good basketball team.”