After never beginning a season on the right foot in three previous openers, UCSB men’s basketball Head Coach Bob Williams finally secured his first opening game victory.

Williams guided the Gauchos past gritty cross-town rival Westmont 51-42 Saturday afternoon at the Thunderdome.

Sophomore shooting guard Branduinn Fullove noticed the shot clock winding down and took two dribbles before smoking a three-pointer. The shot enabled the Gauchos to burst to a 45-38 lead with 1:36 remaining in the battle and effectively end Westmont’s chances of winning.

“I actually saw the clock right and I knew it was winding down,” Fullove said. “I knew I had to create [a shot] because the positioning we had at the time wasn’t too good for our offense to set us up. So I just created it. And I had the rhythm going on my shot so I had to get a shot off. I thought it was a big basket. It was a key possession right there. We needed a score or a bucket off of it.”

Fullove scored a game-high 19 points on 7-11 shooting and went 2-3 on three-point shots in the second half after going 0-3 in the first half. Fullove chipped in four rebounds, a steal and a block in 36 minutes.

The Warriors battled UCSB tough throughout the game, and locked in on the Gauchos for the opening frame by enforcing a stifling 3-2 zone defense that was effective throughout the contest. Santa Barbara shot only .348 in the first half and coughed the ball up 13 times opposed to dishing out four assists. For the game, the Gauchos had two more turnovers than field goals made, losing the ball 20 times.

Even though the Gauchos had a tremendous size advantage with senior centers Adama Ndiaye and Mike Vukovich patrolling the lane, UCSB struggled to get points in the paint.

Santa Barbara scored only six points down low in the opening half. Ndiaye struggled to establish himself against Westmont, who threw tenacious double and triple-teams at the center. Ndiaye turned the ball over seven times in the game.

“The number of turnovers were pretty high on [Adama’s] part,” Williams said. “I think he had seven turnovers. So a lot of times when he touched the ball he wasn’t able to get to a shot. Some of those turnovers, if he’s getting doubled, he’s got to make quicker decisions to get the ball out to the open shooter.

“Our post guys played into Westmont’s hands by putting the ball on the ground when they did get it, and that brought them down to Westmont’s size inside. And if they had caught it, kept it high and turned, those would have been their shots or the quicker passes out.”

The most telling statistic of the game, however, was the rebounding edge the Warriors gained on UCSB. Westmont doubled the Gauchos’ offensive boards for much of the game and ended up snatching 17 to Santa Barbara’s 10. Ndiaye cleaned glass for UCSB with 14 rebounds.

“Any time you get 17 offensive rebounds against a team as big, and as quick, and as talented as UCSB, that’s a hopeful sign,” Westmont Head Coach John Moore said.

After a lackluster start, the Gauchos began to position themselves for success during the last eight minutes of the game. Junior point guard B.J. Ward began making plays and getting players who struggled, especially junior forward Mark Hull, to make big plays down the stretch.

Ward stroked a perfect 4-4 at the line and dished out four assists against only two turnovers. Ward dished a pass to Hull, who made a layup for a 38-35 lead with 5:40 left. With UCSB nursing a 40-38 lead, Ward knifed a sweet pass to Hull for a 42-38 lead. After Westmont called its second timeout, Fullove hit his clutch bomb from downtown to secure victory.

“It’s the first game of the season; we’re a little jittery, a little tight, a little nervous and so we had a lot of careless turnovers,” Ward said. “We missed a lot of shots in the first half. In second half, we kind of let that go and started playing smarter; we all got to together and started playing harder.”

Hull, quiet for most of game with10 points, chipped in seven second-half points and lassoed seven boards. Ward, however, was the catalyst near the end of the game by leading the charge in scrambling for loose balls, along with sophomore guard Nick Jones and Hull.

“Maybe in the last eight minutes, we got hustle plays,” Williams said. “We got loose balls. I thought B.J. generated that.”

Westmont was led by junior forward Chris Clark’s 14 points and junior guard Mitch Pierce’s 13 rebounds. Clark was the only Warrior in double figures.

After the game, Fullove expressed relief that the game was finally over and the season underway.

“It took forever for this game to get here,” he said. “This is the first step in a long journey and I’m glad it got started.”