Now, that’s more like it.
After signaling a team-only meeting on Tuesday to sort out the turnover kinks that plagued the Gauchos in a dreadful 20-point massacre by University of the Pacific on Saturday, the UCSB men’s basketball team responded to the challenge in an impressive 66-52 drubbing of UC Riverside on Thursday night at the Thunderdome.
“I think this team is going to be great when we figure out what we’re capable of doing,” sophomore forward Cameron Goettsche said. “But we’re not anywhere we need to be.”
Senior guard Branduinn Fullove stole the offensive spotlight for Santa Barbara, hammering home a game-high 19 points on 6-12 shooting, including a perfect 2-2 from three point range. The 2002-03 Big West Player of the Year posted a game-high five assists and never relinquished a turnover in 24 minutes.
“We just wanted to put a good performance together,” Fullove said. “I tried to stay aggressive and look to assert myself.”
Santa Barbara clearly won the game in the paint, where the Gauchos out-muscled the Highlanders, securing 45 rebounds to UCR’s 19, the same number of offensive rebounds posted by UCSB. Senior forwards Bray Skultety and Bryan Whitehead each snagged a game-high nine rebounds, while Goettsche pulled down seven. The three Gaucho posts limited UCR junior forward Vili Morton to just four points and two rebounds.
“To out-rebound someone 45-19 is pretty impressive,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams admitted. “We got an awful lot of offensive rebounds, but I wish we would produce better off those chances.”
Junior forward Casey Cook, UCSB’s leading scorer and rebounder, also returned to the line-up after missing three games with a right quadriceps injury. Although he did not start, Cook checked in with 13:02 to play in the first half and played sparingly though the contest, registering four points and two rebounds in 12 minutes.
“I thought Casey looked good. He got his feet back,” Williams said. “He hasn’t been able to practice. I mean, his first practice was Tuesday. We weren’t going to play him longer than three-minute stints.”
Sophomore guard Cecil Brown emerged for Santa Barbara, contributing five points, a pair of rebounds and an assist. The streaky Brown appeared more confident running the offense, shaking off defenders and pulling up for two sweet fade-away jumpers. With seven minutes to play in the second half, Brown drove the ball into the corner and created enough space to separate himself from UCR senior guard Kevin Butler and fire up a sugar-coated left-handed arcing swish. Riverside Head Coach John Masi immediately called time out after Brown stopped the Highlander push and extended Santa Barbara’s lead to 58-43.
“Cecil’s a very streaky player. If he gets his shots, he’ll score 16 on you,” Williams said.
UCSB continued to turn the ball over at unacceptable rates for Williams. The Gauchos committed 15 turnovers, giving away eight first-half possessions in half-court sets.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Williams insisted. “You’re going to see guys that have no turnovers play more minutes.”
Sophomore guard Joe See nailed both shots he fired for five points but committed five turnovers and was limited to 19 minutes. After senior guard Jacoby Atako turned the ball over after a timeout, Williams didn’t hesitate to substitute for Atako, who had played just 17 minutes.
“The best sign [of our team’s ability] will be when there is no meeting and your winning every night,” Williams said. “We have to be more consistent defensively and take care of the ball.”
The Gauchos (11-6, 5-3 in the Big West) secured sole possession of third place in the Big West with their victory over the Highlanders (6-10, 3-5 in the Big West). Conference-leading Utah State held on to beat UC Irvine 57-48 at the Dee Glenn Events Center in Logan, Utah to improve to a perfect 8-0 in the Big West. University of the Pacific, which cruised to victory over Santa Barbara on Saturday to improve to 7-1 in conference, was idle Thursday night and will face Cal State Northridge on the road tomorrow evening.
The Gauchos host Fullerton (6-11, 2-6 in the Big West), a squad which gave struggling Cal Poly its second conference win last night, at Mott Gym, Saturday night at 7 in the Thunderdome.