If the UCSB men’s basketball team can get what it wants every time it plays, it’d be sitting on top of the world.
The Gauchos might feel that way for at least one game anyway, after they blazed by Cal Poly, 84-77, Thursday night at Mott Gym and regained third place in the Big West, after Long Beach State succumbed to Irvine later in the evening, 83-78. UCSB has won seven of eight games, achieving its sixth straight win over Cal Poly while reaching .500 for the first time all season.
Sophomore forward Mark Hull paced a balanced offensive attack for Santa Barbara by pumping in 21 points, including six long bombs at critical moments throughout the contest. Freshman forward Branduinn Fullove drilled in 20 points, and the forwards became the first two Gauchos to score 20 or more points in a game this season.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a couple good games when we’ve played Cal Poly this season,” Hull said to 1250 AM. “I had a lot of open looks from the three tonight, and I was able to knock down a couple of those.”
UCSB (12-12, 8-5 in the Big West) was also bolstered by the first double-double in freshman guard Nick Jones’ career after he scored 14 points and ripped down 11 boards. Junior forward Mike Vukovich poured in 10 points on 5-6 shooting. Santa Barbara also received heads-up play from senior forward Juliano Jordani and freshman forward Casey Cook, who both hit rare three-pointers in the game. Freshman center J.J. Todd energized the Gauchos with two offensive rebounds and dished a nifty pass to Jones for a first-half layup after leaping for his first offensive board.
“I thought tonight was a great win for us,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said on 1250 AM. “I thought a lot of guys stepped up big. If you look statistically at us, Nick Jones with 11 boards – just a phenomenal effort there … and I thought Mark Hull hit a lot of big shots, obviously from the three-point line.
“You know the one I like bigger than any was Juliano stepping up and hitting the three tonight,” he said. “He’s hobbled up there, limping out there, with two bad knees and a bad back and yet he still finds a way to contribute for us. I’m really proud of this effort tonight.”
Cal Poly was led by senior guard Watende Favors’ 25 points, who became the first Mustang not named Chris Bjorklund or Jamaal Scott to lead his team in scoring. Bjorklund, the all-time leading scorer at Cal Poly, finished with 20 points, and Scott added 14.
Conspicuously absent from UCSB’s roster was senior guard LaRon Bryant, who has officially left the team, according to Williams, and the guard will not return for the remainder of the season.
Santa Barbara returns to the Thunderdome for its final home game of the season against Pacific at 3 p.m. in a game televised by ESPN2.
“We need a huge turnout, and it would be great to see almost a full house against the University of Pacific on Saturday at 3 p.m.,” Williams said.