Anteater meat is strangely satisfying and Aggies taste better stir-fried, but right now, Tiger flesh tastes more like milk and honey to the Gauchos’ satiated tongues.

The UCSB men’s basketball team pounced on Pacific early and enjoyed a feast that the players should remember for a while: The Santa Barbara victory coincided with a rare Utah State home defeat earlier in the evening. Now the Gauchos are comfortably perched alone in first place in the Big West Conference.

UCSB devoured Pacific 62-52 on Thursday night at the Alex G. Spanos Center in Stockton, improving to 12-10 overall and 9-3 in the Big West. The Tigers dropped to 11-9 and 6-5 in the conference. An equally significant event occurred earlier in the night: Irvine handed Utah State its first home loss of the 2002-03 season on Thursday, a 58-57 shocker at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum in Logan, Utah, allowing Santa Barbara to jump into first place.

UCSB Assistant Coach David Campbell predicted earlier in the day that the Anteaters would pull off the upset against the formidable Aggies, a forecast that would bode well for Santa Barbara. Utah State dropped to 17-6 and 8-4 while Irvine moved into a tie for second at 14-7 and 8-4.

Perhaps the only downcast news of the night came early when junior guard Branduinn Fullove, the Gauchos’ leading scorer at 16 ppg, headed to the locker room with an injury. Fullove never returned to the court.

The Gauchos remained calm and put UOP away methodically without their top player. Junior guard Nick Jones and freshman guard Cecil Brown scored 15 and 16 points, respectively. Jones also grabbed eight rebounds. Brown fought his way out of a shooting funk by making 5-9 shots, including 2-3 from long distance, in only 21 minutes of work.

Santa Barbara jumped out to an 11-point lead in the opening half on freshman guard Josh Davis’ three-point bucket, Davis’ tip in of his own missed shot, and a Brown free throw to push ahead 17-6. The Tigers bounced back to close the gap to 29-25 at halftime.

UOP freshman forward Christian Maraker scored nine points at halftime. Maraker didn’t score another point but managed to grab 12 rebounds. To add insult to injury, senior guard Demetrius Jackson followed up a dreadful nine-turnover game at the Thunderdome on Jan. 18 with zero points on 0-7 shooting in 18 minutes, a pitiful performance for the senior in his last game against UCSB.

Perhaps the most significant statistic of the night came at the charity stripe. UCSB sunk 16-21 free throws, while UOP only hit 2-4.