If a strong defense wins championships, it does not look as though the UCSB men’s basketball team will be cutting down any nets come March. In their 59-46 loss to Cal State Northridge last night, the Gauchos (7-10 overall, 1-5 in the Big West) won the battle for last place, extending their Big West losing streak to three games.
“We are not playing good basketball right now,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said. “We’re not getting great leadership on the floor.”
Even with their leading scorer – junior guard Mike Efevberha – sitting out the first half, the Matadors (8-8, 2-3 Big West) shot 42.6 for the game and forced 25 UCSB turnovers, scoring 24 points off of those turnovers.
“This was by far the best we’ve played since the USC game,” Northridge Head Coach Bobby Braswell said. “From a defensive standpoint, we had a great effort. The time we’ve had off in the past week we spent getting better defensively.”
Northridge sophomore guard Jonathan Heard led all scorers with 15 points, while sophomore forward Calvin Chitwood contributed 14. Although Efevberha – the #1 scorer in the Big West- played just 13 minutes, he contributed 11 points, outscoring any Gaucho.
“We’re at a point where we need Mike to do stuff for us defensively,” Braswell said. “I thought he was great coming on in the second half. I think it was good for the team to see that they can operate without [Efevberha] in there.”
Santa Barbara led for a mere 23 seconds of the game. Northridge built an 11-point lead early in the first half and went to halftime with the 25-16 advantage. In the second half, the Gauchos’ new starting lineup came out fired up, closing the gap and taking a 29-27 lead with five minutes of aggressive play on both ends. Junior forward Glenn Turner snagged six of his game-high nine boards and scored three of his seven points during the 11-2 Gaucho run.
“We came back in the second half with a different group,” Williams said. “When we subbed three guys, the ones who came in didn’t have a high enough aggression level. That’s what started the comeback in the second half, high aggression.”
From there, though, Northridge took over, pulling even seconds later and extending its lead to as many as 16 points. UCSB would not get any closer than five points from there, handing the Matadors their first win at the Thunderdome in 25 years.
“We had a hard time sustaining the toughness with the basketball you need to have against this team,” Williams said. “Twenty-five turnovers in a basketball game is ridiculous.”
Northridge held the Gauchos to just 34.7 percent shooting from the field, including an ugly 4-17 from beyond the arc. UCSB was led by senior guard Cecil Brown and sophomore forward Chris Devine, the only Gauchos to hit double-digits with 10 points apiece.
With the loss, Santa Barbara is off to its worst conference start in over 20 years.
“Obviously, by far this was our worst performance,” Williams said. “There is no excuse for how we are playing – not an injury, not a bad kid. No excuse.”
From here, the Gauchos continue their homestand, hosting Pacific (13-6 overall, 3-2 Big West) tomorrow afternoon. In the preseason, the Tigers were picked to finish second in the conference, and are coming off of a 64-62 win at Cal Poly last night.
Pacific’s freshman forward Anthony Brown recorded his second straight double-double against the Mustangs, dropping 10 points and pulling down 11 boards. Senior forward Christian Maraker, a two-time All-Big West First Team selection, is averaging 17.1 points per game and leads the conference in rebounding.
“We play [Pacific] on Saturday,” Williams said. “We need to get our heads back together [Friday]. Hopefully we’ll step up to the challenge.”