Two weeks ago, a team left the basketball court hanging its head after faltering at home by a single point on national television to its hated rivals.
A rejuvenated UCSB men’s basketball team walked into the Pyramid last night to face Big West foe Long Beach State, and came out with a stunning 78-71 comeback victory.
Redshirt freshman guard Nick Jones poured in career highs of 19 points and seven rebounds for the Gauchos (7-11, 4-4 in the Big West). Jones was the vital component in Santa Barbara’s comeback from an 11-point halftime deficit, a hole that remained open until 8:41 in the second half. Jones pumped in nine points during a decisive 23-3 second-half run that dismantled the 49ers’ defensive attack, and before Long Beach knew it, it had played rabbit to UCSB’s turtle.
Freshman guard Branduinn Fullove and junior forward Mike Vukovich both scored 14 points in the upset, after faltering 76-75 on Jan. 18 at the T-dome.
Coming back from an improbable deficit on the road at the Pyramid was no small task, and the Gauchos – feeling loose, yet calm and collected, all week – gathered their composure with a magnificent display of basketball.
“We kept our poise,” Jones said on 1250 radio. “[Head Coach Bob Williams] was talking about just relaxing and telling us not to let them get to us, and just start running our offense and executing, and that’s what we did. They got really excited – they thought they had us put away; we kind of did something all the teams had been doing to us: come back on them. So, it’s all pretty good.”
UCSB again shut down 49er center Travis Reed to 10 points and zero blocks. Vukovich, along with senior forward Juliano Jordani, anchored the middle well. Vukovich redirected three shots to maintain pressure in the paint. Santa Barbara also had the magic touch at the charity stripe, nailing 26-31 free throws, or 84 percent.
“Coach wanted at least 30 free throws and said we’re going to win it tonight at the free throw line,” Jones said. “We showed that. It shows how much we’ve basically matured in the last two weeks.”
The only problem the Gauchos had was controlling Ramel “Rock” Lloyd, who drilled in a game-high 25 points, yet only seven after halftime. Santa Barbara never let the New York native get into a rhythm in the second half, and found a way to win its first game in seven visits at the Pyramid.
“It’s a good win for us to finish a game the way we finished that game, and kind of be resilient and battle back into the game,” Williams said. “I’m really proud of the effort the guys put on the floor.”