Without the luxury of its top two offensive players, the UCSB men’s basketball team rallied from behind to beat the University of Hawaii in Honolulu on Friday night in its season opener.
Against the Warriors, the Gauchos proved to the rest of the conference why they were chosen by the coaches and the media to win the Big West crown this season: their deep bench. Santa Barbara (1-0) dropped the Warriors (0-1) 57-51 at the Stan Sheriff Center, proving to any doubters that it has the capability to play 10-11 deep and not miss a beat.
Despite missing senior guards Branduinn Fullove and Nick Jones to injury and suspension, respectively, the Gauchos featured three players scoring in double digits and commanded the defensive end of the floor.
Junior power forward Casey Cook led the way for Santa Barbara, pouring in a game-high 16 points on six of 11 shooting. In quite possibly his best game as a Gaucho, Cook snagged 12 rebounds and went a perfect 4-4 from the charity stripe. Both his points and rebound totals were career-highs for Cook.
Senior point guard Jacoby Atako and sophomore shooting guard Cecil Brown each poured in 13 points.
Santa Barbara stormed out of the game and opened up a quick 5-0 lead. But Hawaii responded and used a 7-0 run to end the half with a comfortable 25-20 cushion to sit on in the locker room at halftime.
The Gauchos battled back in the second half, and with less than eight minutes to play, sophomore guard Joe See launched a three-pointer off a fast-break opportunity to propel UCSB to a 47-44 lead. With 3:25 to play, Brown hit a jumper to cap a 10-0 Gaucho run and give Santa Barbara a commanding 51-44 lead.
Although UCSB converted just 21-53 (39.6%) from the field, the Gauchos held Hawaii to the same shooting mark. Santa Barbara went 3-8 from three-point territory as See nailed two from behind the arc. The Gauchos, undersized in the post compared to Hawaii, won the rebounding battle 36-31.
The Gauchos handed Hawaii just its third home loss in its last 36 tries. Prior to Friday night’s win, UCSB was just 1-4 in season openers under UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams.
Hawaii, which was projected to finish near the top of the Western Athletic Conference, was led by senior forward Phil Martin’s 13 points.
UCSB travels to the mountains for the Montana Holiday Classic next weekend to face St. Mary’s College on Saturday afternoon in the opening game of the two-day event.