If Wednesday night’s exhibition game was any indication, the future is bright for the UCSB men’s basketball team. The Gauchos stormed out to a big first half lead and withheld a late run from UC San Diego to win 62-51.
Santa Barbara jumped out to an early 20-6 lead and after a brief Triton comeback, the Gauchos finished the first half on a 14-2 run to take a 19 point lead into halftime. The game appeared to be well in hand at the start of the second half, but a stretch of Gaucho turnovers allowed UCSD to cut the deficit to six points with 5:32 remaining. That was as close as the Tritons would get, as strong defense and scoring from freshman guard James Powell would put the game away for good.
“The first half our team defense was pretty good. We got some really nice performances out of first-time players.” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “We got a little hurried and a little careless [in the second half]. We gave them some silly turnovers.”
Junior guard Alex Harris scored 15 of his game high 23 points in the first half and showed that his transition from point guard to shooting guard is going smoothly. Harris was five-for-seven from the field and made 12 of his 15 free throw attempts.
“I didn’t want to force anything, but at the same time I felt like there weren’t too many defenders out there who could keep me out of the paint,” Harris said. “I tried not to settle for jumpers as much as I did most of last season.”
Playing in his first game as a Gaucho, Powell had three steals in the last five minutes of play, resulting in three easy layups to extend the UCSB lead. Powell, who admits that slow-footed former Gaucho Joe See used to burn him in practice all the time, finished with a game high five steals to go along with 10 points and six rebounds.
“Coach told me to be aggressive. At the time I knew I didn’t have any fouls so I knew I had the opportunity to be pretty aggressive,” Powell said. “I worked pretty hard over the summer to improve on my defensive skills and it looks like it’s starting to pay off a little bit.”
Junior forward Chris Devine finished with 13 points, going six-for-nine on the floor and showed that he is still adjusting to his newfound role as a perimeter player. With the injury to senior guard Cecil Brown, Devine has moved over to the small forward spot, with junior Ivan Elliott getting most of the playing time at power forward.
“I’m not necessarily uncomfortable [at small forward], but when I went back to the four I definitely found my niche there for a few minutes,” Devine said. “It felt good to slam into some people and get to the free throw line.”
The new Gaucho frontcourt of Elliott and sophomore forward Tom Garlepp combined for nine points, 11 rebounds and four blocks.
In addition to the win, the Gauchos were able to see what improvements they need to make before the regular season begins. UCSB will look to get more production from its bench as six Gaucho reserves were able to account for only seven of the team’s 62 points. The Gauchos also committed 18 turnovers and struggled from beyond the arc, shooting just two of 12 three-pointers.
The brief exhibition season wraps up Monday, Nov. 6 when the Gauchos take on Westmont at the Thunderdome. Tip-off for that game will be at 7 p.m.