Junior forward Sam Garza’s goal and assist helped the Gauchos overcome visiting UC Davis 2-1 during a semifinal match of the Big West conference tournament Wednesday night. It was UCSB’s fifth win in a row, and dashed all hopes of a postseason run for the Aggies.
“Tonight we didn’t want to give anything back,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said after the game. “We didn’t want to expose ourselves to the point where they could counter attack us.”
The match began slowly, with each team searching for an offensive rhythm amid the physical play on either side of the field. UCD’s back line sports five players that are at least 6’3”, a stark contrast to UCSB’s front line, whose only player over the six-foot mark is sophomore David Opoku.
“Davis is a big team,” Garza said. “They’ve got big players and they’re physical so we try to match it.”
Garza was able to take advantage of the physical play by drawing a foul call against UC Davis in the 17th minute and connected on the following penalty kick.
“I took a touch and it was a little in front of me,” Garza said about the foul. “The guy was coming after it and his cleat got caught in my right foot.”
Garza’s goal gave UCSB a 1-0 lead entering the second half.
A goal by Opoku during the 60th minute gave the Gauchos a 2-0 advantage. It was Opoku’s first goal since a two-score outing against Cal State Fullerton on Oct. 11.
“Dom played a ball toward Garza and I thought he was gonna shoot it,” Opoku said. “He gave it a touch back so I opened up my body and I scored with my left foot.”
Davis responded 20 minutes later when a free kick was headed into the net on the right side of the box. It was the Aggies’ only score of the match.
The game was played evenly over the course of the two halves. Both UCSB and UCD took 12 shots, recorded four saves and differed by only one whistle in fouls (UCD 16, UCSB 15).
Senior defender Tim Pontius’ presence was missed during the match, as he was forced to sit out after earning his fifth yellow card during the previous game against Cal Poly. Freshman Marshall Cazares took over the role for his fifth start of the season.
“Defensively, he did very well,” Vom Steeg said about Cazares. “He defended very well tonight.”
A win by UC Irvine over UC Riverside the same night determined the Gauchos’ competition for the Big West championship. It will be the third straight year that UCSB will play in the Big West championship, and the first time the team will play at Irvine this season.
The last match featuring the two teams ended in a 2-0 Anteater win at UCSB. The Gauchos held a 12-11 advantage in shots taken during that game with five on-goal attempts compared to four by UCI.
Both UCSB and UCI share the top-two standings in multiple stat categories for the Big West conference. UCSB stands at No. 1 in points, goals and goals per game, with UC Irvine ranked No. 2 in each. UCI rankes No. 1 overall in shots and shut-outs.
Though the Gauchos will make the NCAA tournament regardless of Saturday’s outcome, a win against Irvine provides the possibility for better seeding in the tournament.
“We’re in a position now where we’re finding ways to win,” Vom Steeg said. ”Without a doubt we’ll be a top-eight seed if we can beat Irvine.”
Saturday’s championship match is scheduled for 7 p.m. at UC Irvine.