After losing only three games in the final two months of the regular season, the Gauchos lost back-to-back postseason games, ending their season and the career of the schools’ new all-time scoring leader in the process.
On Friday, UCSB (23-9) was upset 55-50 in the Big West Tournament semifinal by a UC Irvine (18-16) squad that knocked the Gauchos out of the conference tourney two straight years. Five days later, Santa Barbara said goodbye to Finals Week and headed to Oxford, Miss. to take on Mississippi (22-10) in the first round of the MasterCard National Invitation Tournament. Despite leading big early, seventh-seeded UCSB eventually succumbed to second-seeded Ole Miss 83-68.
UCSB came out strong against the Rebels, forcing a turnover on the first Ole Miss possession and scoring on the other end. Both teams felt each other out for the first few minutes until senior guard Alex Harris and sophomore guard James Powell hit back-to-back three-pointers to give the Gauchos a 15-6 lead just four minutes into the game. The Rebels battled back with a run of their own to get a big home crowd back into the game and tied things up at 26. Ole Miss took its first lead of the game shortly thereafter, but the Gauchos kept things close and Powell’s third three-pointer of the half cut the Mississippi lead to 37-36.
Harris led the way with 12 points in the first half, including a pair of free-throws with 4:58 remaining that moved him past alum Carrick DeHart into the top spot on UCSB’s career scoring list. The Gauchos shot the ball well from beyond the arc in the first half, but Ole Miss dominated inside with senior center Dwayne Curtis scoring 11 points and pulling down nine rebounds before the break.
The Rebels went on a 13-4 run to open the second half, to extend their lead to double-digits. After dominating inside in the first half, the Rebels took their game outside, draining three after three to pull away from the Gauchos down the stretch.
Harris finished with a game-high 20 points, with Powell chipping in 18 and junior forward Chris Devine adding 14. Curtis led the way for the Rebels with 17 points and 16 rebounds.
UCSB ended up in the NIT instead of the Big Dance after a heartbreaking loss in its opening Big West Tournament game. After entering the tournament as the top-seed, UCSB had perhaps its worst offensive performance of the season, allowing the Anteaters to knock the Gauchos out of contention for the conference’s lone NCAA Tournament spot. Santa Barbara shot 31 percent for the game and despite being one of the best free throw shooting teams in the nation, made only 55 percent of its shots at the charity stripe. UCSB looked tight from the beginning, and seven missed lay ups and the 13 missed free-throws proved to be the difference in the game. Harris led the way with 17 points, but he was the only Gaucho to finish in double-figures. Devine was dominant at times before fouling out midway through the second half, finishing with eight points and 11 rebounds. Junior guard D.J. Posley played his best game of the season, and completely disrupted Irvine’s rhythm at times en route to a career-high six steals.
Harris and senior forwards Ivan Elliott and Nedim Pajevic all played their final games as Gauchos, along with junior forward Beau Gibb who will also graduate in June. Gibb never became a starter during his UCSB career, but he did receive a nice parting present as UCSB’s NIT game was played in his hometown.