The Gauchos need a New Year’s resolution fast.
The UCSB men’s basketball team squandered a late six-point second-half lead against Utah State on Thursday night in the Thunderdome, dropping the game 74-67 and falling to one for two in the Big West standings. After blowing a 21-point second-half lead against Long Beach State on Saturday and letting Irvine sneak back in late in the Gauchos’ victory over the Anteaters on Monday, the Gauchos appear vulnerable to late-game slumps.
“It’s a huge concern,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said of Santa Barbara’s failure to close the door on games. “We’ve been bad in the last three minutes of three games. When we got the six-point lead [against Utah State], we were a little happy instead of finishing the game and being happy in the locker room.”
The Aggies (10-1, 2-0 in the Big West) weren’t fazed by the 4,279 faithful who showed up for the Santa Barbara’s conference home opener, rallying back nearly every time the Gauchos made a big second-half play.
After getting into foul trouble in the first half, junior forward Spencer Nelson responded down the stretch, scoring nine straight Aggie points, culminated by a three-point dagger with 2:39 to play and giving USU a 66-63 advantage. After senior guard Cardell Butler translated in two more points off an uncontested shot, the Gauchos had run out of time to play catch-up.
“I think we have the weapons to be a great team,” said senior guard Branduinn Fullove, who scored a game-high 19 points on seven of twelve shooting. “We just need to figure out a way to pull these out down the stretch.”
Teamed with Fullove, sophomore guard Joe See sparked Santa Barbara’s impressive shooting evening. See led a Santa Barbara squad that shot 52 percent, scoring 15 points on five for seven three-point field goal shooting.
“I just saw some open looks and put them away,” See said.
But the Aggies converted 56 percent of their field goal attempts. Sophomore forward Cameron Goettsche played one of his best games of the year, hitting four of eight field goals for 10 points in 23 minutes and stopping Nelson on many occasions. The Gauchos out-rebounded the taller Utah State 29-22, but the Aggies rarely missed shots and continually created opportunities for high-percentage shots down in the post for Butler and Nelson.
“They are a better basketball team than us right now,” Williams said. “They do a great job of taking care of the basketball. They’re a good defensive team but we lost the game on our defensive end of things.”
Santa Barbara desperately needs a win against Idaho (3-8, 0-2 in the Big West) tomorrow night at 7 in the Thunderdome. After the game against the Vandals, the Gauchos will have a week of break before they resume play against Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo on Jan. 17.
“It’s not like we’ve [struggled to start the season] before,” Williams said. “It’s a matter of who finishes strong. There’s no doubt that we’re not where we want to be right now.”