Santa Barbara fell behind early in the first half against UC Irvine, and despite a furious second-half comeback, the Gauchos dropped a 62-60 decision off a game-winning three-pointer from Irvine.
Sophomore center Alan Williams returned from a three-game absence to due to injury but could not prevent UCSB from losing its fourth straight game. Santa Barbara fell to 7-14 on the season with a 3-7 mark in the Big West while Irvine improved to 12-11 overall and 6-4 in conference.
“[Irvine] just played faster than us. They were quicker than us in everything and they played exceptionally well,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “They were more alive, more aggressive, beat us in transition, beat us off the dribble, just everyway there was. They just dominated us in the first half and in the second half, we returned the favor to them.”
Irvine got off to a quick start, taking a 17-point lead into the half, but UCSB came roaring back in the second half. Down by as much as 20, the Gauchos rallied behind strong play from Big Al who led all players with 22 points, eight rebounds and three steals.
Freshman forward Taran Brown sank a jumper with 21 seconds remaining to give UCSB a one-point lead, but Irvine forward Michael Wilder responded with a three-pointer with 10 seconds remaining to give the Anteaters the lead once more. Junior guard Kyle Boswell missed a three at the buzzer securing Irvine’s second consecutive victory.
“I liked that we played well together, we fought and there was a lot more fight in us in the second half,” Coach Williams said. “[Irvine] got 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, they got none in the second half. [We] became a much more cohesive unit in that second half and played much better together.”
Boswell scored 15 off the bench while freshman guard Michael Bryson added 12 points for the Gauchos. UCSB also played without freshman forward Mitch Brewe who was injured and ruled out for the year.
While UCSB is disappointed by the loss, it has to feel encouraged by Big Al’s return to the lineup and his impressive performance in his first game back.
“I thought he had a lot of rust on him, especially in the first half and was maybe a little tentative and got frustrated with himself a little bit in the first half,” Coach Williams said. “But I thought in the second half he was sensational.”
Close contests have been unkind to the Gauchos recently as their four straight losses have been by a combined 15 points. UCSB has also lost two straight games by two points but has received solid play from many underclassmen in the face of injuries.
“We’re still just trying to find a way to get ourselves healthy for a stretch run,” Coach Williams said. “I think the freshman have been stepping up pretty good. We’ve got a lot of contribution out of that freshman class. We’ve got a month and a half left in the season, it’s important that we keep getting better.”
UCSB returns to action Thursday when it hosts UC Davis.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of February 4th, 2013′s print edition of the Nexus.