On a night when the National Champion men’s soccer team was honored at halftime, the UCSB men’s basketball team showed that it is ready to pick up right where the soccer team left off.
The Gauchos (6-2 overall) went on a 25-8 run to blow the game wide open at the start of the second half, and cruised to a 70-42 upset win over previously undefeated Fresno State (7-1).
“In every facet of the game we were absolutely overwhelmed,” Fresno State Head Coach Steve Cleveland said. “They just took us out to the woodshed and gave us an old-fashioned whooping. [UCSB] played with great energy and great execution and that’s why we got rocked. They obviously are the best team we’ve played this year.”
The Bulldogs came into the game averaging 80.3 points per game on 46 percent shooting, but the Gauchos’ stingy defense held them to 28 percent shooting and a season-low 42 points. Fresno State’s high-powered offense revolved around three-point shooting, but it went 0-for-15 from beyond the arc in the second half and finished only five of 27 on threes.
“I think we’ve struggled defensively this year, but tonight you saw kind of a breakthrough defensive effort,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said. “I was very impressed and very pleased with the improvement at the defensive end.”
Junior forward Chris Devine led all scorers with 19 points and junior guard Alex Harris added 18 points and a season-high eight rebounds. It was the first time this season that Harris was held to under 20 points, but the Gauchos saw no shortage of scoring as a deep bench added 19 points. Senior guard Cecil Brown came off the bench to score six points to go along with sophomore forward Tom Garlepp and freshman forward Emmanuel Bidias a MoutŽ, who combined for 13 points and five rebounds.
“This is one of the more productive games we’ve gotten in terms of bench play and it really helped us keep the energy and the attacking up,” Williams said. “I was really pleased with the bench play and it was the best defensive effort that the bench has given us.”
Unlike their losses to San Diego State and Loyola Marymount, the Gauchos refused to allow their opponent to make any sort of a comeback. UCSB kept the advantage above 21 points and Bidias a MoutŽ capped off the victory with a thunderous breakaway dunk in the game’s closing seconds.
After losing their previous two home games, the Gauchos went on the road and regrouped with a 75-68 win over Portland on Dec. 2. Harris and Devine combined for 44 points and freshman guard James Powell added 17 points of his own as the Gauchos remained undefeated on the road this season. UCSB returned to a newly raucous Thunderdome as a season high 3,766 fans turned out to show their appreciation for the soccer team and watch the basketball team dismantle a familiar rival.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been on the floor and we’ve had a crowd with that much energy,” Brown said. “If they’re going to bring energy like that we should have [the soccer team] at every game.”
The Gauchos now have an 11-day break for finals before facing San Francisco, Vanguard and San Diego in their final three nonconference games.