During the holidays it is better to give than to receive, and that’s just what the UCSB men’s basketball team did, as the players gave out three defeats to their opponents while receiving only one back in favor, over the Winter Break.
The Gauchos opened Big West Conference play over Winter Break with road wins over UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton. The Gauchos then took a break from Big West play to participate in the Cable Car Classic, held in Santa Clara, Calif., where they proceeded to demolish Detroit and then stumble against host Santa Clara in the championship game.
Santa Barbara handily overwhelmed UC Riverside 68-56, with guard Branduinn Fullove leading the Gauchos with 18 points scored. As has been the case all year, the Gauchos stifling defense held the Highlanders, a newcomer to the Big West and to Division I play, to a frigid 37.5 percent shooting from the field, while UCSB shot 50 percent.
The following game at Fullerton was one of the most exciting and heart-stopping games of the year for the Gauchos. Forward Nick Jones brought the Gauchos back from a certain defeat by nailing a buzzer-beating three-pointer as time expired, to win it for UCSB 64-62. With 1.2 seconds left in the game, and the Titans leading 62-61, Fullove heaved a three- quarter court pass to forward Mark Hull who proceeded to tip the ball over to Nick Jones, who calmly sank the three to make the Gauchos 2-0 in Big West play.
The following week, at the Cable Car Classic, the Gauchos opened the tourney with a dominating 86-59 victory against the Mercy, which came into the game with a respectable 7-4 record. Led by Fullove’s 13 points, UCSB jumped out to a whopping 48-17 lead at the half, holding Detroit to a frigid 21.5 percent shooting from the field.
“This might have been the best first-half we’ve played since I’ve been here,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said. “[Our] guys hit shots they should hit.”
The play of the game was a thundering two-handed jam from forward Bray Skultety, which was worthy of a being put in a poster. Following an errant Gaucho shot, Skultety leaped over two Detroit defenders and ripped down a monstrous two-handed jam.
Five Gauchos scored in double figures as the Gauchos led by as many as 32 points and by no less than 23 in the second half.
In the championship game against Santa Clara, the Gauchos could never get on track offensively shooting 34.5 percent from the field, losing 61-59.
“We struggled offensively and never got into any rhythm,” Williams said.
Hull was the leading scorer for the Gauchos with 20 points scored. The Gauchos led 24-22 at half time but Santa Clara stayed close and was able get ahead for good late in the game. The Gauchos had another last-second opportunity to win but point guard Jacoby Atako had his shot blocked as time expired.
“Our defense kept us in the game … but we didn’t shoot well offensively,” Williams said.