Placing seventh out of an eight-team field wouldn’t be considered disastrous by most teams. But for the Gauchos, the defending 2002 Big West champs, that sounds like a nightmarish start.
The UCSB men’s basketball team stumbled out of the gates with a 1-2 start at the BP Top of the World Classic this weekend at Fairbanks, Alaska, finishing seventh in the eight-team tournament.
Santa Barbara salvaged a frigid weekend by crushing Centenary 84-69 on Sunday. The Gauchos lost their first two games of the 2002-03 season with 91-82 setback to Weber State on Friday and a 73-66 defeat at the hands of Jacksonville State.
Against Centenary, UCSB used a 17-0 run over a span of 2:44 early in the first half to put the Gents to bed early and open up a commanding 30-8 lead at the 11:11 mark. Freshman guard Cecil Brown punctuated the run with two free throws.
Junior guard Branduinn Fullove, a preseason All-Big West First Team selection along with senior forward Mark Hull, led the Gauchos with 22 points. Fullove nailed 6-9 shots including 4-6 from three-point land as 19 of his 22 points came in the decisive opening frame. Sophomore forward Casey Cook pumped in a career-high 16 points in 18 minutes on a nearly immaculate 6-7 shooting from the field.
Hull and junior guard Nick Jones joined Fullove and Cook in double figures with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Santa Barbara shot 64.3 percent from the floor and 73.9 percent in the first half. Every Gaucho who took more than two shots shot 50 percent or higher from the floor. UCSB also made 21-23 free throws, good for 91.3 percent.
Junior point guard Jacoby Atako dished off eight assists, doubling Centenary’s total as an entire team.
Yet the first two games were anything but a winter wonderland for Santa Barbara.
Weber State overcame Hull’s 23 points, Jones’ 20 on 8-12 shooting and a deficit late in the contest to upend UCSB. The Wildcats fell behind throughout the entire first half and most of the second before making their move. Down 74-71 with 5:50 remaining, Weber State rolled off a 9-0 run and never looked back. Stevie Morrison scored 22 and Jermaine Boyette chipped in 20 for the Wildcats.
The bleeding continued on Saturday. Jacksonville State never trailed and led by as many as 15 points before holding off the feisty Gauchos. After UCSB cut the lead 49-45 with 7:38, the Gamecocks used a 10-2 spurt to jump ahead 59-47. Jones scored 20 points on 6-10 shooting and 4-5 from behind the arc. Fullove, the only other Gaucho in double figures, scored 16 points.
UCSB plays its first game at home this Saturday against San Francisco at 7 p.m.