It took more than a month, but the UCSB men’s basketball team picked up its first home victory of 2007, defeating UC Irvine 71-62.
Senior guard Cecil Brown scored a season-high 23 points, with 21 coming in the second half to lead the Gauchos (15-6 overall, 6-2 in the Big West) to victory. The win pushes UCSB’s winning streak to four games for the third time this season and improves the squad’s home record to 6-4.
“Cecil hit shots at a clutch time,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “Cecil gets hot and is a very explosive scorer when he gets going.”
The foes kept it close early and the Anteaters (11-14, 5-6 Big West) grabbed their only lead of the game at the 14:30 mark of the first half on a jumper by junior forward Patrick Sanders to bring the score to 9-8. But freshman guard James Powell sank a pair of free throws to ignite a 10-0 Santa Barbara run in the middle of the first half to extend the lead to 33-20.
The Anteaters managed to battle back before the break to make it a game. Junior guard Chuma Awaji hit a three pointer and Sanders drained another jumper to cut the gap to 36-28 at the break.
When the Gauchos came out to start the second half, they left their offense in the locker room and Irvine took advantage of that fact. Junior guard Alex Harris hit a basket at the 12:50 mark, but the next UCSB field goal did not come until a layup on a putback by senior forward Glenn Turner with 5:57 remaining.
“Glenn was pretty active out there,” Williams said. “He had a couple of blocks and I thought he affected the game tonight.”
During the Santa Barbara drought, the Anteaters cut the deficit to 53-50 and got as close as one after a pair of free throws by Sanders. But Brown came to the rescue, scoring 10 points – including a four-point play in a three-minute span to preserve the lead.
“I just realized [the defender] couldn’t guard me when I got into the side post,” Brown said. “If I just kept backing him in I got to my fadeaway.”
Irvine was able to stay in the game partly because of its hustle, pulling down 17 offensive rebounds to UCSB’s eight and winning the rebounding battle 39-26. But the Anteaters were too sloppy with the ball, committing 18 turnovers and tallying just 11 assists.
Santa Barbara persevered despite an off night from Harris, the conference’s leading scorer. After hitting the floor hard late in the first half, Harris was quiet after the break and finished with 14 points, including shooting seven-of-seven from the free throw line.
Powell turned in a strong performance off the bench, finishing with 10 points and was perfect in four tries from the charity stripe. The Glendora-native showed no hesitation with his shot and no fear when driving into the lane and appears more comfortable coming off the bench after starting at the beginning of the season.
“I’m just trying to keep my confidence and keep working on it,” Powell said. “I know that during the home stretch, I’m going to need to be playing well.”
Last night’s win sets the stage for tomorrow’s contest against current Big West leader Long Beach State (16-6. 7-2 Big West). The 49ers came from behind to defeat Cal Poly 80-77 last night and handed Santa Barbara its worst lost since 1979 in a 101-65 victory when the two met in Long Beach on Jan. 4.
The Gauchos have erased the embarrassment from memory and can take over sole possession of first place with a victory over the 49ers, a post they have not held since the first week of the season.