After the UCSB men’s basketball team closed the books on Fall Quarter, it continued its fast start and emerged as a contender in the ranks of the Big West.
Santa Barbara (11-4 overall, 3-1 in the Big West) has put together a 5-2 record since finals ended, including an 84-76 home win in an early season showdown with Cal State Fullerton. Both losses came on the road and the squad currently stands in second place in the conference.
Even better news is the return of senior forward Glenn Turner who missed the final three games of last season and the first nine of this year. The Gaucho’s best post defender from last season proved he can still be a major contributor for UCSB with his showing in the conference opener, with eight points, nine rebounds and five blocks against UC Riverside on Dec. 28.
“Having [Turner] back makes things easier on everyone else,” junior forward Chris Devine said. “Hopefully he can get all the way back soon.”
The Gauchos had a chance to take control of the Big West early last Thursday in Long Beach, but the 49ers proved why they are the preseason favorites. UCSB struggled on the road for the second straight game and the 49ers embarrassed Santa Barbara 101-65 behind a career-high 35 points from senior guard Aaron Nixon.
“It was just one of those nights,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “Nixon was dominant inside, outside and off the dribble. We didn’t put forth our best effort.”
The usually solid Gaucho defense allowed the 49ers to shoot over 54 percent for the night while junior guard Alex Harris, the conference’s leading scorer heading into the game, was held to just 10 points. The loss was the first time a Williams-coached team gave up 100 points and was UCSB’s worse loss since 1979.
“[The 49ers] were well-prepared and they went in ready to knock us off,” Williams said. “We were thoroughly dominated in this game.”
Coach Williams referred to Saturday’s road contest against Irvine as the team’s biggest game of the year, as a second straight loss would have put Santa Barbara in an early season hole. But the squad came out strong, defeating the Anteaters (7-9 overall, 1-1 Big West) 64-59.
Harris rebounded from his off night to lead the way with 23 points and Devine notched his fourth double-double of the season with 15 points and 11 rebounds. After turning the ball over 19 times in the loss to the 49ers, UCSB committed just 11 turnovers against Irvine.
The Gauchos ran out to an eight-point first half lead before the Anteaters clawed back to make the score 32-30 at halftime. The game remained close until senior guard Cecil Brown’s layup, scored with just over eight minutes left, gave Santa Barbara the lead for good. Freshman guard James Powell helped preserve the lead down the stretch, scoring six points in the final three minutes, including a big three-pointer with just under two minutes to go.
The win improved UCSB’s road record to 6-2 after winning its first five. Holding the Anteaters to 59 points may be a turning point for a Gaucho defense that allowed 91 points per game in its two-game road losing streak.
“We haven’t played with very much confidence on the road. I don’t think we’ve come out mentally prepared on the road,” Williams said.
Santa Barbara’s next two games will kick off in the Thunderdome starting Saturday at 7 p.m. against future Big West member UC Davis.