The UCSB men’s basketball team suffered its first loss of the season Saturday in a 71-64 loss to Utah State at the Thunderdome. Without top scorer and rebounder in junior center Alan Williams, the shorthanded Gauchos recovered from a 10-point halftime deficit but ultimately fell short against the Aggies.
Santa Barbara fell to 2-1 on the season while Utah State improved to 3-0. Despite playing without Big Al, UCSB managed to stay in the game against a talented Utah State team expected to compete for a shot at the NCAA Tournament this season.
“They’re a good team; they have a bunch of good shooters. They made shots, it’s as simple as that I feel like,” sophomore guard Michael Bryson said. “We needed to make corrections, and we got a little better in the second half. They made more shots than us and we didn’t stop them enough.”
Big Al suffered back spasms during pregame warm-ups, forcing him to unexpectedly miss the game. Coming off an impressive victory at UNLV, the confident Gauchos were dealt a serious blow without Williams to go along with the absence of sophomore guard John Green due to injury.
Down by as much as 14 in the first half, UCSB struggled to shut down the shooters of Utah State for a majority of the game. The Aggies entered halftime with a 39-29 advantage thanks in large part to a pair of senior guards in Spencer Butterfield (16 points and seven rebounds) and Preston Medlin (18 points).
“I thought the first half they were just nervous without Al and they tried to do too much and they were jittery,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “In the second half our quickness got them going. We went small and the quickness affected the game. We got some strips, we got out and ran, so it took them a while to adjust to our quickness.”
Halftime adjustments led to an 11-0 UCSB run to open the second half as the Gauchos took a 40-39 lead. Both teams battled from then on with the Aggies holding a three-point lead with 30 seconds remaining in the game. Utah State made free throws down the stretch however to close the game and secure a victory.
“Obviously we got out way more in transition than we have in the past. I think we’re a very good transition team,” sophomore forward Sam Beeler said. “The more we can get stops and do all that stuff and get out and run, the more chance we have to make open shots.”
Bryson led UCSB with 15 points on the night, while Beeler registered 14 points and five rebounds in replacement of Big Al. Senior guard Kyle Boswell added 11 points but was unable to find many open looks from the three because of the absence of Big Al.
“With Sam and Al in there they definitely have to help down. Al goes down there and he kills. Sam goes in there … and he is bigger and taller and able to go over the top and make shots,” Bryson said. “That presence wasn’t there offensively so we definitely had to try something different this game. We came back but it just wasn’t enough this time.”
Point guard play was one area of strength for Santa Barbara Saturday as freshman Eric Childress and junior Zalmico Harmon combined for nine assists and only one turnover. Childress finished the game with seven points, five assists, four rebounds and two stills. Harmon added six points and four assists.
Regardless of the outcome, the Gauchos managed to find offensive production despite finding out they would be without their best player minutes before tip-off.
“[Utah State] never doubled anybody and I thought their gameplan was right on. They adjusted very quickly to what we were doing,” Coach Williams said. “We were doing stuff that we were not prepared to do. We had to do stuff to try to compensate losing Al and losing John. “
UCSB next travels to face Colorado on Thursday for a 5 p.m. game.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of The Daily Nexus.