The UCSB men’s basketball team won the battle of Santa Barbara schools once again last night, although Westmont kept things much closer than the Gauchos would have liked.
The Gauchos overcame an early first-half deficit to defeat their cross-town rivals 76-68 in the final exhibition win of the year. Junior guard Alex Harris torched the Warriors for 36 points and five assists, both game highs, and freshman guard Paul Roemer added 10 second-half points for the Gauchos.
“The basket looked really big tonight and even on my misses I felt like I released it pretty well,” Harris said. “I felt like we needed a little spark and I felt like I was a little bit on so I kept shooting.”
Early on, Westmont looked like a Division I team as the Warriors raced out to a 8-0 lead, including three straight baskets by senior forward Santiago Aguirre to start the game. Aguirre finished with a team-high 27 points and helped keep things close throughout the first half.
“I was impressed and he’s a great player,” sophomore forward Beau Gibb said. “It was hard to guard him in the post. We started double teaming him in the post and it helped a little bit.”
The Gauchos took their first lead of the night at the 9:53 mark in the first half on a three-pointer from junior guard Trevor Bing. Trailing 30-29 with just under five minutes left in the first half, the Warriors took a timeout and UCSB responded with a 7-3 run to close out the half for a 37-32 halftime lead.
But UCSB started slow again in the second half and Westmont reclaimed the lead at 48-45 on a wide-open three-pointer by freshman guard Matt LeDuc. Santiago picked up his fourth foul with 8:26 remaining and the Gauchos took advantage, scoring seven straight points with the Warrior star on the bench to turn a three-point deficit into a four-point lead.
Roemer’s trey with 7:26 left put Santa Barbara up for good and the walk-on finished 3-4 from the field on the night and was perfect from the free throw line. Freshman guard James Powell started at the point and was followed by fellow freshman Justin Joyner, but it was Roemer who ran the show in the closing minutes of the tight game.
“I definitely just came in the game and wanted to bring some energy,” Roemer said. “We just kind of started out a little lackadaisical and I just wanted to bring the team up as one.”
UCSB pulled out the victory despite a poor showing from junior forward Chris Devine, who made just one of five shots to finish with four points. Powell shared Devine’s shooting woes as he failed to knock down any of his eight shots and was held scoreless.
“Chris is one of our go-to players,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “He is a great player and is playing out of position a little bit right now to help the team and maybe he’s struggling at getting a feel for the three spot.”
Santa Barbara’s defense allowed Westmont to shoot an outstanding 61 percent, but the frontcourt made up for it by pulling down 23 offensive boards and winning the rebounding battle 39-25.
The score was a little closer than UCSB had planned, but the squad finished the exhibition season undefeated, heading into Friday’s season opener against San Jose State in the Thunderdome at 7 p.m.