ANAHEIM, CA – The UCSB men’s basketball team plowed through its second tournament game on Friday night, crushing #3 Cal State Northridge 83-63 in the semifinals of the Big West Tournament at the Honda Center and advancing to the championship game tomorrow against Long Beach State.
Junior forward Orlando Johnson had another spectacular offensive performance, scoring 20 points in the first half and 30 on the night. Junior forward Jaime Serna added 16 points – 12 in the first half – and a team-high nine boards. Together, they propelled #5 UCSB to a 40-19 lead at the half against the Matadors, who swept the Gauchos during the regular season.
“[I’m] pleased and a little surprised at the margin of victory and the margin we had at halftime,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “We were really good defensively. It’s a stark difference in our team – how good we’ve been defensively so far in this tournament.”
Entering the tournament with the fifth seed, the Gauchos have now won three in a row, matching their longest streak of the season when they beat Loyola Marymount, Santa Clara and UNLV in early December.
CSUN tied score only once during the game – at 4-4 with 17:28 to go in the first half. Serna, who spent much of the season on the bench with a hip flexor, had six of the Gauchos’ first eight points. UCSB closed out the first with a 10-0 run.
“When Jaime plays like that, it gives us that third option offensively that makes us legit,” said Williams. “[And Orlando’s] back where [he] needs to be for us to have a shot in this tournament.”
Johnson made all five of his shots from behind the arc and hit nine of 11 free throws. On defense, the Gauchos limited CSUN to 28.6 percent from the field. Matador forward Lenny Daniel matched his team-leading average by scoring 16 points, but he took 16 shots and made only four.
Despite a regular season that Williams called “embarrassing,” UCSB finds itself, for the second straight season, fighting Long Beach State for a ticket to the Big Dance. Coming off a win in the semifinals against UC Riverside, the top-seeded 49ers have beaten the Gauchos in each of their regular season games.
“It’s tough to beat a team three times,” Williams said. “We’re really banking on that statement.”
If the Gauchos win, they will earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season.
Tomorrow’s game will tip off at 5 p.m. at the Honda Center.