While their fellow students were licking gravy-coated plates clean, the members of the UCSB men’s basketball team were getting their first taste of defeat this season on a road trip featuring the defending national champions and the Pac-10 Conference.
The Gauchos (2-2 overall) traveled to North Carolina (3-1 overall) on Nov. 25, dropping an 86-63 decision in front of 17,305 at the Smith Center before swallowing another loss 73-57 at Arizona State.
“We just need to learn to play consistent every game, with the same competitiveness and same eagerness against conference teams as we do against the national champions,” sophomore guard Alex Harris said. “We can really take away a lot from the last two games.”
The Gauchos kept it close through the first half of both games. Against the Tarheels, UCSB went 8-16 from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes and entered halftime down by just nine points.
After cutting the lead to just four early in the second half, the Gauchos could not seem to find the bottom of the basket. North Carolina went on a devastating 20-6 run, eating up nearly 10 minutes off the clock. Freshman forward Tyler Hansbrough and senior forward David Noel combined for 12 points during the run, which would prove too much to overcome for UCSB.
“I give credit to both [the Tarheels’] offense and defense on that run,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “We had five great shots during the run that we didn’t make. Our missed shots and turnovers fueled their transition game. We had breakdowns and they capitalized.”
Hansbrough topped all players, notching a double-double with 15 points and 11 boards, with Noel just behind with 14 points. Meanwhile, Harris led Santa Barbara, dropping 13 points and snagging seven rebounds.
With one loss under their belts, the Gauchos traveled next to Arizona State (4-0 overall). Once again, UCSB held its own in the first half and went into the break locked in a 29-29 tie.
The Gaucho offense struggled in the second half while Arizona State lit up the scoreboard. With 9:02 left in the game, junior guard Bryson Krueger hit three straight jumpers to give the Sun Devils a 50-40 lead from which UCSB would not recover. Krueger and junior guard Kevin Kruger led four double-digit scorers for Arizona State, combining for 27 points – 21 in the second half. Senior guard Cecil Brown’s 14 points and 4-8 shooting from beyond the arc set the mark for UCSB.
Santa Barbara continues its road trip Saturday at Loyola Marymount. The Lions (1-3 overall) lost in overtime Monday to South Alabama 81-80 and faced off against Long Beach State on Wednesday.
After traveling to Westchester to face the Lions, the Gauchos have a busy Winter Break planned. First, UCSB hosts Pepperdine on Dec. 7 before taking on San Diego State, Sonoma State and Fresno State over the last three weeks of December.
“I’m looking forward to the Pepperdine game,” Williams said. “We really want a big student turnout, even though it’s during finals, it could be a nice study break.”
Finally, Santa Barbara will host Portland at home before beginning Big West play on the road at Riverside on Jan. 2.
“We’re definitely going to learn a lot more [during break],” Harris said. “We’ll get a lot more reps in before Big West starts. It’s good to get games in early and work on stuff that we haven’t been doing well before conference.”