It may not have been the upset of the century, the decade or even the year, but the UCSB men’s basketball team’s 60-59 win over #1 UC Irvine last night probably felt that way.
The Gauchos (9-11 overall, 2-6 in the Big West) put together their first set of back-to-back wins since the first week of the season and picked up just their second road victory this year.
“It feels good,” sophomore forward Chris Devine said. “It means a lot, especially on the road. For one thing, this means we can beat every team in the conference. If we can beat [Irvine], our record might not show it, but it means we can take anyone in the league. It’s great for our confidence.”
In a game where neither team led by more than six points and the lead changed 16 times, the final minutes were crucial to the Santa Barbara win. With 3:47 remaining, senior guard Joe See hit consecutive threes to put the Gauchos up 54-48. Irvine responded with four free throws from senior guard Aaron Fitzgerald and a layup from sophomore forward Darren Fells, taking the 57-56 advantage before an acrobatic jumper from senior guard Cecil Brown gave UCSB its final lead of the game.
Down 58-57, Anteater senior guard Ross Schraeder fouled Santa Barbara sophomore guard Alex Harris, who missed the first of his one-and-one opportunity from the charity stripe. But, a key rebound and layup from junior forward Glenn Turner on the miss gave UCSB a 60-57 advantage. Irvine closed the gap with a Fitzgerald layup and fouled senior guard Michael Chambers on the Gauchos’ next possession. A miss from Chambers gave the Anteaters the ball with less than 12 seconds. As the seconds dwindled, a stalwart defensive stand from UCSB gave it the one-point win.
“We want to have the best record in league in the second half,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “This gives us something to hold onto. This was our best road win, beating the best team in the league. This can be a starting point for us. This team is really trying to start the season over.”
Devine led all scorers with 18 points on 6-9 shooting, dropping 12 of those 18 in the second half. Along with his offensive contributions, Devine recorded six boards, two steals and two blocks on the night.
“Our emotional leader tonight was Devine,” Williams said. “He did a great job, made his shots and made some great plays. In the second half he was aggressive, and matched Fitzgerald and really kept them from pulling away. From that standpoint I really think Chris was our heart and soul tonight.”
The Gauchos played some of their best defense of the season, forcing 12 turnovers, holding Irvine to 43.8 percent shooting and just two double-digit scorers. Senior guard Josh Davis and Turner controlled the defensive pace for UCSB. Davis helped hold Schraeder – Irvine’s leading scorer – to just nine points. Meanwhile, Turner dominated the glass, pulling down a game-high 12 rebounds and blocking two shots.
“Defensively, Glenn had a great game,” Williams said. “He had some good rebounds. He started off excellent. He did some tremendous rebounding at the beginning of the game.”
Brown added 14 points for UCSB, including the game winner, while See quietly dropped 12 points on 3-7 shooting from the field. Santa Barbara shot a blistering 62.5 percent in the first half helping them to take a 29-28 lead into halftime.
Irvine was led by Fitzgerald’s 17 and junior forward Nic Campbell’s 11. Fitzgerald showed off his shooter’s touch – hitting 5-10 from the floor – and his vision, adding a game-high eight assists. Fells snagged nine boards to lead the Anteaters.
“[The guys] are all well aware that we are nowhere near .500,” Devine said. “It feels great to get a win and I think this will help propel us. We have the confidence that we can win on the road in a loud gym so it feels good.”
With its second straight win under its belt, UCSB next travels to Long Beach State (11-10 overall, 6-4 Big West) on Saturday. The Walter Pyramid has created problems for the Gauchos of late – they have not won in Long Beach in five years.
After trailing, 37-23 to Cal Poly at the half last night, the 49ers pulled out a 69-66 win to jump over the Mustangs into the #3 slot in the Big West. Long Beach boasts four double-digit scorers, including senior guard Jibril Hodges who leads the team with 14.6 points per game.
Tip-off is scheduled for 5:35 p.m. tomorrow at The Walter Pyramid in Long Beach.