With a season-high 5,982 fans in attendance for the Blue-Green rivalry game, the Thunderdome was rocking Saturday in anticipation of the start of Big West play for the UCSB men’s basketball team. Unfortunately, fans left disappointed as the Gauchos fell 72-64, unable to finish a late-game rally from a double-digit deficit.
Despite a monstrous performance from junior center Alan Williams, the Gauchos fell short in their conference opener, dropping the team to 9-5 on the season and 0-1 in the Big West. Cal Poly, who was victorious in the Thunderdome for the first time since 2007, improves to 6-9 overall and 2-0 in conference.
“The crowd did their job and we just didn’t do ours. They were out here cheering us on and we didn’t perform for them,” Williams said. “It’s on us; there’s nobody to blame except the guys in the locker room. We’ve just got to be better — it’s a long conference season and we’ve got 15 more games to fix this.”
Santa Barbara opened the rivalry game flat, trailing 28-24 at the half, and did not respond much better in the second half, falling behind by 12 in the early minutes after the break. The Gauchos rallied to as close as three but could never get over the hump, often failing to hit clutch shots and opting for three-pointers instead of the steady inside presence of Williams.
“You’ve got a guy that they can’t handle, you keep going to him,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “We didn’t have the discipline tonight where we’ve had that discipline in many games. We didn’t make Cal Poly make a decision.”
UCSB shot 2-17 from the three-point line, whereas Cal Poly finished 11-18 from behind the arc, proving to be the major difference in the game.
The only story for UCSB in this game was Big Al’s 33-point, 15-rebound performance. Williams scored 22 for UCSB in the second half and was one of only two Gauchos to score in double figures, the other being junior point guard Zalmico Harmon with 10 points.
“Cal Poly played very well, and we didn’t respond,” Coach Williams said. “I thought Al showed up, but I don’t think anybody else showed up and responded.”
The Mustangs received much of their scoring from unlikely sources in this game. Junior forward Anthony Silvestri finished with a team-high 17 points, going 5-7 from behind the arc despite his season average of under four points scored per game. Another bench player in freshman guard Taylor Sutlive added 11 points on 3-4 shooting from the three. Together, the duo provided dagger after dagger towards Santa Barbara’s hopes of climbing back in the game.
“We didn’t contest, we didn’t listen and we didn’t switch or pay attention to the good shooters,” Harmon said. “No offense to them, they’re a great team, but we let two guys who’d come off the bench come in and light us up off of miscommunication and not knowing personnel.”
Opening conference play with a loss, especially at the hands of a rival, was a major disappointment for the Gauchos considering how well they played in the non-conference portion of the schedule.
“It happens, we hate that it happens, it shouldn’t happen, but tonight it happened. It’s time for some reflection,” Big Al said. “We’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror and see what we did wrong and fix all the things that we need to fix. It’s a long season, we’ve just got to get back in practice and do better and get our focus back.”
UCSB next hosts Long Beach State on Thursday.
A version of this article appeared on page 5 of January 13th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Anna Kodelashvili of the Daily Nexus.