If Mike Vukovich keeps this pace up, he’ll be pushing for an NBA lottery pick two summers from now.
The headlines could soon be churning: "Vuk replaces Brian Shaw on Lake Show."
The UCSB men’s basketball team was sparked by their junior power forward’s perfect night from the floor, while the Gauchos overpowered Pacific 73-67 on Saturday night for their third straight victory. After four agonizing defeats, Santa Barbara (8-11, 5-4) finds itself tied for third in the Big West with Long Beach State, after shredding the Tigers.
"This is great," sophomore guard B.J. Ward said. "You know we struggle on the road. To get two wins on the road is great. We’ve just been playing well our last three games, the last two especially. The difference has been a real positive attitude. We know we can win these games, and we play with a lot of confidence."
Vukovich, the anchor and the answer in the middle, has propelled himself to the elite of the Big West’s interior players. Vukovich nailed all twelve of his field goals for 27 points, and plunked down eight rebounds in a season filled with climaxes.
"He’s the man," redshirt freshman swingman Nick Jones said. "He stepped it up big time. I think he’s starting to realize that he can just take over by him stepping up and being the man in the middle. For us to be successful, he needs to score 15 points or above and 30 post touches. No big man in the Big West can contain him."
Ward shared the same sentiments about how dominating Vukovich has become the past few weeks, highlighted by Saturday’s epic performance.
"Vuk was bombing," Ward said. "I love to play with that dude. He’s got great offensive moves. He’s got a hook shot no one can stop. He’s been playing real well. Now it’s time for him to step up and show what we all know he can do."
Santa Barbara jumped out to a 10-0 run to start the game behind four Vukovich shots and a layup from Jones. Freshman guard Branduinn Fullove, sophomore forward Mark Hull and Jones highlighted an 11-1 run minutes later with their buckets from downtown Stockton to build a 21-7 lead.
UCSB led 34-26 at the half, and built its lead all the way to 55-40 with 9:34 in the second half, off freshman forward Casey Cook’s three straight buckets.
UOP wasn’t finished, putting their stamp on a 12-0 run to make it 55-52 with 7:07 on the clock. Tiger guard Peter Heizer made a shot that put the Tigers within one, 63-62, with only 2:24 in the game. Jones killed Pacific with a bank shot, and Vukovich sealed the deal with an old-fashioned three-point play and a press-break layup to extend the lead to six with less than a minute remaining.
"We seemed to be having more fun on the court," freshman center J.J. Todd said. "We are more relaxed, and we’ve grown up a lot, finding the fun of the game again … we got to critical points in the game and played strong."
Now that the Gauchos have completed their most successful road trip against two of their fiercest foes, the team has two games at home against Idaho on Thursday at 7 p.m. and Cal Poly on Saturday night at 7.
"It was a great win, especially with the way it happened," senior forward Juliano Jordani said. "We’re learning to win games at the end … we’re trying to take it one game at a game."