With the final seconds ticking off in a mesmerizing clash against Cal Poly, Gaucho junior point guard Jacoby Atako drove across the lane for a chance to tie the game.
Instead Atako was whistled for a questionable offensive foul against Mustang hero junior forward Shane Schilling with 12.9 seconds remaining, and the UCSB men’s basketball team’s hopes of pulling out a fifth straight win sunk in the din of Mott Gym on Thursday.
Cal Poly stopped the bleeding at home and renewed a rivalry with Santa Barbara by pulling out a 66-63 victory. The Mustangs’ triumph broke a streak of 10 consecutive defeats at the hands of the Gauchos dating back to the 1997-98 season. The hosts also won at Mott Gym for the first time since Jan. 16, a span of four home games.
Atako nailed a three-point basket to push UCSB up 60-58 with three minutes left, but Mustang junior forward Varnie Dennis then snatched the lead away with a solid inside maneuver. Dennis received a lob pass in the post and contorted his body to connect on an acrobatic layup. Dennis sunk a free throw to complete a traditional three-point play and hand Cal Poly a 61-60 lead.
Schilling plucked the ball from UCSB junior guard Nick Jones and passed ahead to junior guard Eric Jackson for a layup. Jones, who finished with team-high 18 points, answered with a three to tie the affair 63-63 with 2:05 remaining.
Schilling again had an answer.
The junior transfer from the University of Minnesota stroked a 16-foot jumper with 1:44 left to nudge Cal Poly up 65-63. And with Atako driving the lane in the final seconds, Schilling took the game-clinching charge.
Cal Poly senior guard Jason Allen sunk a free throw for the final margin.
Schilling finished with a game-high 20 points while gathering seven rebounds. More importantly, Schilling frustrated junior guard Branduinn Fullove with superb defense. Fullove scored only 11 points on 4-12 shooting while turning the ball over five times, due in large part to Schilling’s tenacity.
Atako and freshman guard Josh Davis played well for the Gauchos. Atako scored 11 points while pilfering four balls. Davis scored six points and recorded his 21st steal of the 2002-03 season.
Yet the Gauchos’ Big Three of Jones, Fullove and senior forward Mark Hull disappeared, with the exception of Jones’ superb offensive night. Hull made a horrid 1-9 shots and was 0-5 from three-point territory, continuing to slump in the second half of the conference season.
Allen scored 15 points while dishing five assists in 38 minutes. Dennis was the only other Mustang in double figures with 10 points. Dennis also grabbed six rebounds.