The UCSB men’s basketball team entertained high hopes for the 2003-04 season. But a record of 13-10 overall and 7-7 in the Big West in mid-February was not something the Gauchos envisioned during November practices.
Cal State Northridge slipped past Santa Barbara on Saturday afternoon at the Matadome 80-71, handing UCSB its third-straight road loss and fourth defeat in its last five contests. Despite owning a five-point lead with 10 minutes to play in regulation, the Gauchos allowed the Matadors to score four three-pointers in as many possessions in a second-half spurt, three of which came on long-distance bombs dropped by junior forward/guard Ian Boylan. Boylan registered his 1,000th career point on a free throw in the final seconds to secure the Matadors’ first-ever victory over Santa Barbara in Big West competition.
“Their second-half shooting just knocked me down,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said after jokingly drawing comparisons to Villanova University’s shooting spectacle that beat Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA Championship game. “There’s no doubt [Northridge] came out and got a rhythm in the second half.”
Boylan led all scorers with 21 points.
Santa Barbara responded to CSUN’s high-octane, up-tempo style with a transition game of its own in the second half. Senior guard Jacoby Atako led a second-period charge for the Gauchos, scoring eight points and leading the point of attack with determination and confidence. Yet with 9:06 remaining, the 2002-03 Big West Defensive Player of the Year picked up his fifth foul of the game on a charging offensive foul call. Just moments before, and after a controversial play at the hoop, officials called a double foul on CSUN junior forward Etoagwara Onyenegecha and Atako, his fourth personal. Not knowing Atako was also issued the foul, the UCSB coaching staff left Atako in at point guard and, less than a minute later, Atako fouled out.
“I’m not blaming that situation on the game,” Williams said. “Jacoby really stepped up tonight.”
The story of the game may have been won by the Matadors, or, more appropriately, lost by the Gauchos, at the free throw line. Santa Barbara missed 13 of 31 free throws on the afternoon, going just 5-13 in the first half. With 2:41 to play in regulation, the score was 72-71 Northridge, but the Matadors had made 23 of 26 (88.5 percent) of their shots from the charity stripe.
“We’re working on [free-throw shooting], trying to put together a rotation,” Williams said of the Gauchos’ free-throw shooting troubles this season. “It can become larger than life if you talk too much about it. We’re snake-bitten right now; these guys [can] make free throws.”
CSUN’s victory is the first such feat over the Gauchos since Dec. 23, 1996, when the Matadors roughed up Santa Barbara 75-58 in a non-conference match-up.
Senior guard Nick Jones led Santa Barbara with 14 points on 6-9 shooting. Jones has heated up recently and always excels down the stretch of the season. The 2001-02 Big West Tournament MVP is one of seven Gauchos that contributed to UCSB’s run to the NCAA Tournament two years ago.
“Some of [the] guys have been there before,” Jones said. “It would be icing on the cake [for the team’s five seniors], but it’s going to take all of us together. We changed the program around, you know.”
Santa Barbara must re-focus for its final part of conference action. The Gauchos will try some new drills in practice to try and sort out their late-game kinks.
“We’ve lost five games in the last five minutes in league,” Williams said. “When you’re 7-7, that’s pretty crucial.”