Now, that’s more like it.
Down by two points with 11 seconds left in regulation, senior guard Branduinn Fullove drained a three-pointer to give the UCSB men’s basketball team a thrilling 56-55 victory over rival UC Irvine at the Thunderdome. The Gauchos battled back from an 11-point halftime deficit to win their fifth straight game over the Anteaters and clinch at least the fourth seed in the Big West Tournament.
“That really looked like the Branduinn of old there down the stretch,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said. “I give [the players] all the credit tonight. They really showed some confidence on the offensive end.”
UCI senior center Adam Parada gave the Anteaters a two-point advantage by converting one of two free throws with 1:11 to play, but sophomore guard Cecil Brown turned the ball over on the ensuing possession while trying to make a post entry to Fullove. The Gauchos pressed, and Parada fired up an air ball with 36 seconds left, giving Santa Barbara one last chance. Out of the timeout, sophomore guard Joe See swung the ball to Fullove, who had created enough room from UCI senior forward Mike Okoro to fire home a trey that torched the net on a long-range archer. A UCI desperation jumper clanked off the rim as time expired and the Gauchos escaped with the much-needed victory.
“I was just fortunate to get my rhythm and my feet set,” said Fullove, who scored all of his 10 points in the second half, of his final shot. “This is one of our better rivalries, and to finish everything off during your senior week feels pretty good.”
Sophomore forward Cameron Goettsche dominated the Anteaters, posting a double-double with a game-high 16 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. Goettsche, probably UCSB’s most consistent player all year long, rose to the challenge of guarding the 7’0″ Parada, limiting him to just eight points. With 12:53 to play in the second half and the score nodded at 36 a piece, both Goettsche and Parada were issued technical fouls after the two exchanged some words when wrangling for a loose ball.
“We got a little tangled up, and he said, ‘You’re a nice guy,’ and I told him the same thing,” Goettsche said jokingly about the incident. “I don’t know why he came up to me, but I wasn’t going to back down. I’ve been wanting to get Parada since I missed that dunk in Irvine.”
Santa Barbara responded from losing five of its last seven by resolving three elements of the game that have plagued the Gauchos lately: turnovers, free throw shooting and rebounding. UCSB dished out 13 assists in contrast to just eight turnovers, issuing only three in the second half. The Gauchos also shot 72 percent from the charity stripe, a deathtrap for Santa Barbara all season. Led by Goettsche, UCSB out-rebounded the Anteaters 34-30 with the help of the core guards crashing the boards on missed attempts.
“That’s the best game he’s played all year long,” Williams said of Goettsche’s determination. “It was good to see us make some free throws down the stretch.”
The Gauchos (15-11 overall, 9-8 in the Big West) moved into a tie for third place on Thursday night with the University of Idaho (13-14, 9-8) idle until tonight when it tries to upset #21 Utah State (24-2, 16-1) in Moscow, Idaho. If the Vandals slip against the conference-leading Aggies, a door would open for the Gauchos to secure third place outright with a win over Long Beach State (6-19, 4-12) on Saturday night at 7 in the Thunderdome. Although its first-round opponent is yet to be determined, Santa Barbara will travel to Anaheim to compete in the single-elimination Big West Tournament March 11 to 13 with an automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament at stake.
“We need to get our seniors a win,” Williams said of Saturday night’s final home game for UCSB’s five seniors. “It’s a crucial win because we want 10 conference wins, we want the third seed and it will give us the momentum we need to go into the Big West Tournament.”