The Gauchos relieved all their aggression last Saturday night and for Long Beach State, that was bad news.
The UCSB men’s basketball team throttled the 49ers 82-50 before an enthusiastically supportive Thunderdome crowd of 3,426 spectators. All five starters for Santa Barbara scored in double figures. Sophomore guard Nick Jones, who made his second consecutive start, pumped in a game-high 19 points for UCSB.
The Gauchos mutilated the lethargic Beach in the first half and cruised in the second half to avoid losing their third consecutive home game. UCSB had lost to Utah State on Jan. 5 and Irvine last Thursday. Santa Barbara again put a tourniquet on the opposing team’s offensive game plan by limiting LBSU to a wretched 16.7 percent shooting. The 49ers managed to hit only four field goals the entire half.
“After a loss, it was important for the team to respond, to come back with fire and energy, and not lay another egg like we did the other night against Irvine,” senior center Adama Ndiaye said. “I think we have to stop losing so we won’t have to get that point and just bring it every night.”
UCSB (12-6, 6-3 in the Big West) jumped on the Beach early and often. The first possession for both teams mirrored the theme for the night. After LBSU’s senior center Travis Reed won the tip, junior Gaucho forward Mark Hull nearly stole the ball. Reed ended up travelling seconds later trying to make a move against Ndiaye and sophomore point guard Jacoby Atako drained a three from the right corner.
Moments later, sophomore point guard Branduinn Fullove dove for an errant Beach pass and landed on his right thigh. Fullove, who suffered a contusion on his upper right thigh in practice on Jan. 17, tested his thigh early and said after the game that, “the thigh’s back, it’s 100 percent.” It apparently was, as his hustle resulted in an LBSU turnover, and a solid 13 points and six assists in 24 minutes.
When the Gaucho defense then put the clamps on and refused to desist, Long Beach State began to tank under. UCSB did not make the Niners’ road woes any easier, persistently deflecting passes and forcing LBSU to take tough pull-up jumpers and other off-balanced shots.
The 49ers fell to a horrid 0-9 away from the Pyramid. Head Coach Wayne Morgan could have thrown the kitchen sink at UCSB and that probably wouldn’t have put a dent in the determined Gauchos. Unless former Gaucho-killer Ramel “Rock” Lloyd was on tap in that sink, LBSU was fighting a losing cause.
After three free throws from Tony Darden tightened the score 13-7 with 13 minutes remaining in the opening frame, UCSB roared on a ridiculous 33-3 run to balloon its lead 41-10 on a free throw by senior center Mike Vukovich with 2:20 left. To put the 33-3 gambol in perspective, the Niners scored only 27 more points than the Gauchos did in the run for the entire contest.
“We were very alive,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said. “We caught them a little off guard; I thought our energy maybe surprised them a little bit. Our quickness seemed to shock them a little bit, we were beating them to the ball, we were quicker than they were, and we were attacking and their shots weren’t falling in the first half.”
LBSU (6-14, 2-7) put up more of a battle in the second half, using a 5-1 spurt to restore some small sliver of pride. Darden, the only Niner in double figures with 13 points, hit a three and Reed hit an inside bucket. Ndiaye immediately responded for UCSB. Ndiaye nailed a scintillating shot over Reed, hit a pair of free throws and rejected a prayer from Darden into the stands.
Ndiaye finished with14 points and 11 rebounds.
The Gauchos also received excellent support from their bench. Walk-on junior forward Bray Skultety grabbed 10 rebounds and scored eight points in only 15 minutes of action. Junior point guard B.J. Ward finished with six assists. Sophomore center J.J. Todd received a boisterous cheer from the delighted fans while participating in his first action at the T-dome this season. Freshman helmsman Chrismen Oliver and sophomore forward Bryan Whitehead also got in the action with a couple of minutes.
The Gauchos, whose lead never dipped below 21 the entire second half, let the game become a comedy of errors while the fans were rambunctiously ridiculing Long Beach and the refs. The Fantom brought his baby to center court to a giddy crowd. The baby started wailing when the Fantom handed the baby to a referee. Atako hit two stylish reverse layups and Fullove fed Ndiaye for a bone-crunching, one-handed jam with under 10 minutes left.
UCSB hit 82 points on an emphatic note when Oliver fed Skultety for a ferocious dunk.
“I thought the production we got with Bray coming off the bench with 10 rebounds in 15 minutes is exactly what we need,” Williams said. “We need guys coming off the bench, throwing their bodies around, attacking the glass.”