The UCSB men’s basketball team and its infamous Three Amigos came to the rescue Tuesday night and gave the Thunderdome faithful a little holiday treat.
Santa Barbara’s Three Amigos of senior forward Mark Hull and junior guards Branduinn Fullove and Nick Jones outgunned USC by themselves, and the Gauchos blazed past the Trojans 69-53 on Tuesday night before a rambunctious crowd of nearly 5,000 fans.
It took 12 games before the Gauchos could slay USC, but they finally beat the Trojans’ tired old horse into the ground. From a 45-36 loss back in 1946 to a 73-62 last season, USC perpetually humbled Santa Barbara on the hardwood. Until this year.
“UCSB outplayed us. I think we only shot 24 percent from the floor in the second half,” USC Head Coach Henry Bibby said. “They beat us on the boards and they stayed within the structure of their offense.”
After rumbling to a 30-28 lead at halftime, the Trojans stalled offensively while the Gauchos revived their sluggish shooting. UCSB drilled 12-27 shots and 6-10 from three-point country in the second half. Santa Barbara also out-rebounded Southern California 41-33 and dished out nine more assists.
USCB (3-2) has won three straight games.
Junior point guard Jacoby Atako started the second half with a bang for UCSB, blazing past USC sophomore center Rory O’Neil for a left-handed layup. After an SC bucket, Fullove drained one of his four threes to give the Gauchos their first lead since sophomore forward Casey Cook’s inside bucket nudged Santa Barbara ahead 21-20.
Hull stroked a three at 17:08 for a 36-35 lead, and Jones responded one minute later with a trey of his own, bumping the score 39-35. The Gauchos never looked back.
“My shots happened to be falling tonight,” said Fullove, who scored a game-high 23 points, including a sizzling 4-4 from downtown. “It’s nice to get back into my rhythm.”
Fullove did plenty of damage inside the key, too. USC sophomore guard Errick Craven drilled a three to cut the lead 44-41. Fullove completed a Barnum and Bailey old-fashioned three-point trick and followed it with a calm 10-foot runner to push UCSB ahead 49-41 with 10 minutes left.
All-around All-Big West Hull scored 17 points, corralled nine rebounds and tied his career-high of six assists. And for the first time in his career at UCSB, he can say he has beaten a Pac-10 school.
“We weren’t running too many set plays,” Hull said. “We were trying to get wide open shots and we got those open looks.”
Jones pumped in 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds for the Gauchos. The Three Amigos combined for 55 points and 25 rebounds.
Junior guards Roydell Smiley and Desmon Farmer paced the Trojans with 16 and 12 points, respectively. USC (2-2) shot an abysmal 33 percent from floor.
Asked why the Trojans struggled with their shots, Smiley glowered and said, “That’s just basketball. Sometimes the shots fall, sometimes they don’t.”
-Sports co-editor Mike Long contributed to this story.