Never rule out a team that claws out of a hole to jolt its adversaries. The teams that roar back down the stretch to humble an opponent, especially while disposing a local rival, are the most dangerous teams.
For the UCSB men’s basketball team, Cal Poly found out the hard way that it was in for a dogfight.
The Gauchos overcame deficits of 10 points in the first half and nine points in the second frame to oust the Mustangs 69-66 behind a game-ending 17-5 run Saturday night at the Thunderdome.
“The rivalry every year gets a little bit more intense,” junior point guard B.J. Ward said. After Saturday, it wouldn’t be surprising for the two schools to don army attire for their next meeting.
Junior forward Mark Hull, a frigid 1-11 from the field, received the benefit of the doubt on a controversial blocking foul on Mustang guard Steve Geary that turned the game around. Hull drove to the lane in what appeared to be an obvious charge, yet Geary was called. Hull proceeded to hit two shots from the line to hand UCSB a 67-66 lead with 13 seconds.
Santa Barbara (15-8, 9-5 in the Big West) received some love a second time from the officials with a post-Valentine’s Day call.
Cal Poly pointman Jason Allen was whistled on a charge against sophomore guard Nick Jones with six seconds remaining.
“I was telling the ref to watch the push-off because [Allen] was doing it the whole game. The last play, I knew he was going to try to take me straight to the rim,” Jones said. “I could see it in his eyes. I felt I had position and all I had to do was lay back.”
“I think the officials are always right,” Ward said when asked about the questionable calls late in the game in favor of UCSB.
After Jones missed the front end of the one or one, the Mustangs attempted for a length-of-the-court pass with four seconds. Sophomore point guard Jacoby Atako intercepted the pass and another three seconds ticked off before Cal Poly sophomore forward Varney Dennis fouled Atako.
Atako pushed the lead to 69-66 at the charity stripe before Dennis’ final-desperation shot tinkered off, securing third place in the Big West for UCSB.
Nearly lost in the hectic rush at the end of the game were the heroics of sophomore swingman Branduinn Fullove and his career-high 29 points on 11-14 shooting, including a sweltering 5-7 from three-point country. Fullove accounted for eight of Santa Barbara’s 17 points during the decisive run in the final 5:26.
Fullove also scored 19 points in the second half.
“I was just looking for opportunities, little seams here and there where I could get myself going,” Fullove said. “Their game plan was more focused toward Mark [Hull] and Adama [Ndiaye] so it allowed me to be open a lot.”
Cal Poly (14-8, 8-6) climbed ahead by nine on two free throws from forward David Henry. Fullove responded with a layup to cut the lead 61-54. Jones then drilled a three pointer to cut the lead to four.
After Dennis stroked two free throws, Fullove responded with a three pointer. Fullove then completed an old-fashioned three-point play, driving the baseline to tie the game 63-63 at 2:52.
“I thought Branduinn was sensational the entire game,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said.
A Dennis free throw nudged Cal Poly up 66-65 to set up the frantic finish.
UCSB also overcame an early 13-3 deficit in the opening five minutes before getting back on track. Williams claimed defense was the catalyst for the Gauchos.
“I think defense gets big kudos when we went on the run,” Williams said “I think we put together five straight stops. When you can do that defensively, you can get back in the game.”