On Saturday night, the UCSB men’s basketball team won by one word – defense.

Gaucho Head Coach Bob Williams and his staff used a zone defense that gave the team the key to the 59-47 victory over Idaho.

The Santa Barbara Gauchos (8-5, 2-2 in the Big West) forced 19 turnovers and held the Vandals (3-9, 0-3 in the Big West) to shooting just 32.6 percent from the field.

Senior guard Jacoby Atako was the general behind the defensive effort, stealing the ball four times and showing the intensity the Gauchos needed on the defensive end.

“[Atako] came out with a lot of energy and aggression; he got four rebounds and had five assists and no turnovers,” Williams said. “He turned around his performance from the last game. He played like a senior tonight and stepped up and gave his leadership.”

The defensive game plan, along with switching to the 2-3 zone, helped Santa Barbara play its tempo and force Idaho to shoot from the outside.

“It was a great game plan; they struggled against the zone and we were able to contain them,” Atako said. “Their guards like to penetrate a lot, and we countered that with our zone, and it worked well tonight.”

But the game wasn’t as easy as it seemed when, at the end of the first half, Santa Barbara was only up two points. The pace was very slow in the first half, not favoring the Gauchos, who really wanted to push the Vandals out of their system.

Once the curtain opened for the second half, it seemed like a new Gaucho team with a new desired intensity to win the game on the defensive end. In the first eight minutes of the game, UCSB went on an 18-5 run to show the Vandals that they were not going to lose this basketball game.

“I thought it was the best defense that we played all year during the first 10 minutes of the second half,” Williams said. “We played with a great sense of urgency and with a lot of emotion. We established in the first 10 minutes how the game was going to be played in that second half.”

The offensive game plan was to throw the ball into the post and work the shot attempts from the inside. Junior forward Casey Cook stepped up to the plate with 12 points, nine of them in the second half.

Williams was very pleased with the way Cook played throughout the game and really wanted to show him more opportunities at shots in the key.

“Casey earned his points in the second half on his post-up ability, not so much on his scoring,” Williams said. “He got those buckets on how he dominated the post-up and how he got his scoring from there.”

Cook was finishing very strong, shooting 5-6 from the field and also controlling the boards, grabbing six rebounds, which led to some easy breakaway points. But his play under the basket was what the Gauchos were looking for.

“We needed to get a lot [of] to-paint touches, and also get a deeper posting position, in which we went over at halftime,” Cook said.

The key play of the second half was probably the most amazing play of the Gaucho season. Off of a steal by sophomore guard Cecil Brown, Atako gave the ball up to junior guard Joe See, who then threw an alley-oop to streaking sophomore forward Cameron Goettsche for the dunk finish. After this play, the team seemed to bring the energy back to the court and showed their growing chemistry.

The team considered this a must-win coming off a disappointing loss to Utah State in a game in which they were leading throughout the first half and most of the second as well.

“We’re in a position that we cannot lose to anybody, in terms of games that we should win,” Williams said. “We came out and re-established tonight. We struggled through a first half and came out with pretty good fire in the second half.”

Next for Santa Barbara is the Cal Poly Mustangs (6-6, 1-3 in the Big West) on Saturday, Jan. 17. The game should be difficult for the Gauchos, but a weeklong break should give them time to rest and prepare for a tough upcoming schedule.