Defeating a team three times in one season is one of the hardest things to do in any sport.
The UCSB men’s basketball team found out first-hand how difficult accomplishing that feat would be Thursday night against Pacific.
Having already used back-to-back desperation three-pointers from freshman forward Branduinn Fullove and sophomore forward Mark Hull to complete an improbable comeback and take UOP into overtime, Santa Barbara had one final chance to top the Tigers in round one of the Big West Tournament. However, Fullove couldn’t repeat his earlier heroics, missing a three-pointer as time expired, and UCSB dropped a heartbreaker, 71-69.
“I thought for sure Fullove’s shot was in,” UOP Head Coach Bob Thomason said. “But fortunately, the ball didn’t go in, and we won the game.”
The Gauchos opened the game on fire, hitting their first five shots to take an early 11-2 lead. Santa Barbara’s early surge would be a sign of things to come, as Pacific and UCSB would exchange runs for the rest of the first half.
Starting with five straight points from senior guard Peter Heizer, the Tigers exploded on a 13-4 run, tying the game at 15. UOP then momentarily took control, blazing ahead to a 24-20 advantage.
Not to be outdone, UCSB came right back with an 8-0 outburst, with Fullove and Hull each hitting a trey from behind the arc to give the Gauchos a 28-24 lead. The two teams then exchanged hoops at the end of the first half, with Santa Barbara taking a 33-29 lead into halftime.
Both teams increased their intensity level in the second half, knowing that a loss would end their season. With both teams playing with heightened fervor, the defensive pressure picked up also, making each basket hard to come by.
The Tigers bested UCSB early in the second half, scoring four straight points to tie the game at 33 with 18:30 left to play in the half. The game then turned into a one-man show, as Pacific junior center Ross Mills asserted himself for the Tigers. Scoring from down low, behind the arc and from the charity stripe, Mills poured in 10 points over a span of 10 minutes, leading the Tigers to a 48-43 advantage.
Santa Barbara went cold during Mills’ outburst, with no Gaucho able to provide an answer. Sophomore point guard B.J. Ward finally stopped the bleeding for UCSB with a driving layup to cut the Gauchos’ deficit to 49-45.
Freshman Nick Jones then turned the tide for Santa Barbara, rebounding a missed free throw by junior center Mike Vukovich and laying it up to bring UCSB to within two, 49-47. Following a UOP free throw, Jones then buried back-to-back three-pointers to give the Gauchos a 54-50 lead.
Pacific then used eight free throws en route to taking a seemingly comfortable 61-57 lead with 18 seconds left to play. Then, Fullove buried his leaning three with seven seconds in the game. Hull added his trey with less than a second in regulation, heaving a 28-foot bomb to send the game into overtime.
“I was just running down the court, and we needed a three so I shot it,” Hull said. “I was just lucky that it went down.”
Riding the momentum of the three-pointers, UCSB took control in overtime, blazing ahead to a 66-63 lead. But the Tigers responded with consecutive three-pointers of their own to take a three-point advantage. Hull then added a free throw, and UOP made two free throws, which set the scene for the Fullove miss.
Following the bitter loss, the Gauchos now must look forward to next season, and Ward said expectations will be high for UCSB, which will have four All-Conference players returning to the team.
“We feel bad about losing, but we’re really optimistic about next year with everybody we have coming back,” Ward said. “So we’re still really positive about next season.”