What a difference one week makes.

Freshman guard Justin Joyner turned in perhaps the best performance of his young career with a career-high 15 points as the UCSB men’s basketball team picked up a much needed win on the road, defeating Cal State Northridge 67-57. The Gauchos bounced back from two embarrassing home losses to move into second place in the conference.

After a quiet first half Joyner burst onto the scene in the second half as the Gauchos (12-6 overall, 4-2 in the Big West) repeatedly stalled any Matador (10-9, 3-3 Big West) attempt at a comeback. Joyner committed just one turnover against the aggressive CSUN press and made several late free throws to help UCSB preserve the victory.

“After our game against Cal Poly, I felt more confidence in my shot,” Joyner said. “In the second half, I got some good looks.”

Santa Barbara showed what a week of practice can accomplish as the offense moved the ball much better than it had against Cal Poly (9-8, 2-3 Big West) last week. Despite the improvement the Gauchos were held under 70 points for the fifth straight game and turned to their defense for the win. After allowing two of its last four opponents to shoot over 50 percent from the field, Santa Barbara locked down the Matadors from the beginning.

“I thought we did a much better job handling pressure,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “We really did a pretty good job at getting something we wanted every time. It was just an ugly shooting night for both teams.”

Junior forward Chris Devine chimed in with his typical solid performance, netting 17 points and pulling down seven boards while junior guard Alex Harris added 17 points on a relatively quiet night for his standards. The Gauchos used a balanced attack to thwart CSUN as senior guard Cecil Brown added 11 and senior forward Glenn Turner showed the physical presence he has lacked in previous games – but it was the play of Joyner late that made the biggest impact.

“He really grew up,” Williams said. “He shot the ball and played with great confidence. Glenn in the second half really helped us. He was more active and that’s the guy we need to show up.”

The Matadors gave themselves little chance to get back into the game late as they shot a horrid one-of-21 from three-point range. CSUN was the fourth-best team from long range going into the game and the stifling Santa Barbara defense held Northridge to its third-fewest points of the season.

The Gauchos earned the victory despite being dominated on the boards 52-35 and were just 22-36 from the free throw line in another impressive road victory. The squad is now 7-2 away from home with wins over UNLV (17-4) and Pepperdine (5-16) and has won two straight on the road in conference play. The win puts a game of separation between the Gauchos and Matadors and UCSB pulls even with Long Beach State after the 49ers (13-6, 4-2 Big West) fell on the road to UC Irvine (10-11, 4-3 Big West). Cal State Fullerton (15-4, 5-2 Big West) sits atop the league standings at 6-2.

“At home we’re a little too comfortable,” Joyner said. “On the road we’re always together and we come out and play well together.”

UCSB continues its road trip this Saturday in Stockton to take on defending champion Pacific (7-12, 3-2 Big West). The Tigers have dominated both the Big West and the Gauchos over the last few years and Santa Barbara last pulled off a victory in the series in the 2003 Big West Tournament. Pacific has won six straight against UCSB and its 64-36 victory in Stockton last year was the fourth-worst in Gaucho history.

Last night the Tigers pounded Cal Poly 66-43 – the same Cal Poly team that took down the Gauchos on their home floor last week. Pacific has now won its last two contests and is 6-3 in the Spanos Center this season.

“They’re not the same level of players they’ve been the last three years,” Williams said. “They’ve got some good young players, but it’s not Christian Maraker.”

One win would satisfy most teams on a two-game weekend swing like this, but the Gauchos could gain major ground in the conference race for the coveted top two spots with a strong showing on Saturday. Santa Barbara has a chance to show that there is a changing of the guard in the Big West’s elite, but it first has to prove that it can be consistent.

“This group is so young that we need to take [Pacific] seriously,” Williams said. “We have to get back to work and you need every win you can get.”