Instead of playing a friendly game of H-O-R-S-E, the Gauchos and Vandals mired themselves in a game of U-G-L-Y.
The UCSB men’s basketball team took control of a physical, low-scoring game with a 15-0 run in the final 4:38 to put the Vandals away 52-44 and remain in first place in the Big West Conference.
The Gauchos’ Big Three of senior forward Mark Hull and junior guards Branduinn Fullove and Nick Jones bounced back from a horrendous 2-15 shooting cold spell in the first half by scoring every point in the decisive game-ending run to win the sixth of their last seven games.
“They didn’t exactly light it up in the first half. But you do know that they’re going to respond one time or another or we wouldn’t have the name of the Big Three stuck to them,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said. “They are our guys, they are our leaders and they’re guys we’re going to go with in the gut of a game.
Idaho junior guard Dwayne Williams punctuated an 8-0 Vandal burst with his second straight three-point basket to nudge the Vandals up 42-37 with 6:30 remaining.
A visibly agitated Williams called timeout and prodded the engine of the Big Three to roar on a full head of steam while demanding that the supporting cast put more coal in the boiler.
“Coach challenged us to go out and secure every single rebound and defend straight up,” said junior forward Bryan Whitehead, who led Santa Barbara in rebounds for the second straight game with seven boards. “We went out of the zone into man-to-man with not a lot of help. We were going to find out who was tougher, them or us.”
Hull ignited the rally with a pair of free throws before swishing a three in the corner pocket to tie the game 42-42 with 4:05 left. Junior point guard Jacoby Atako sliced through the key to find Fullove under the basket for a layup and foul. Fullove completed the old-fashioned three-point play and boosted Santa Barbara up 45-42 for a lead the Gauchos would never relinquish.
After a scramble for the ball that left five players on both teams writhing on the floor, Atako scooped up the loose ball and lobbed a pass up-court to Jones under the basket. Jones hit the layup with 36 seconds to jam the metaphorical dagger into Idaho’s diffused heart.
Seconds later, the potato-eaters’ hearts were viciously thrust out with a questionable charge call on senior forward Tyrone Hayes, the second controversial charging call to go against the Vandals. With his fifth foul, a dejected Hayes sulked to the bench.
“I disagree with both calls,” Idaho Head Coach Leonard Perry said. “I thought the post [defense] was moving as we were penetrating down the lane.”
Despite the end result for Santa Barbara, the game certainly did not satisfy either team. UCSB shot a dismal 32.6 percent in the game, including 29.6 in the first half. The Vandals shot 39.5 percent overall and a meager 24 percent in the final 20 minutes.
“These games don’t lengthen your career, I’ll tell you that,” Williams said. “These are the type of games that are grinding on you.”
Fullove, the only Gaucho in double figures, scored a game-high 13 points.
“In terms of pulling it out and being tested tonight, I think we were pretty happy with surviving and staying out on top,” Fullove said. “Earlier this season we struggled with that.”
For the time being, UCSB must hit the practice floor and the drawing board with only seven conference games remaining in the regular season before the Big West tourney begins March 13.
“We didn’t play well against the zone. We need to hit shots, there’s no doubt,” Williams said. “We will go into practice this week and we will work on our zone offense a great deal, and we will have to get better at it.”