On the night when the Fantom finally returned to the Thunderdome, it was the Gaucho bench that stole the show, leading the UCSB men’s basketball to a 64-49 victory over Pacific.
The victory clinched Santa Barbara a top-four finish in the Big West Conference, assuring the Gauchos (17-10 overall, 8-5 in the Big West) a first-round bye in next week’s Big West Tournament.
“[The bye] is extremely important because it’s really tough to win four games in a row in that kind of environment with that kind of enthusiasm,” junior guard Alex Harris said. “Everybody’s ready to go and giving 110 percent, so of course you have a natural advantage if you’re resting that first day.”
The game got off to a sloppy start as the two teams combined for three traveling violations in a scoreless first four minutes of play. Freshman guard James Powell and junior forward Ivan Elliott each provided a spark off the bench, allowing the Gauchos to take a 29-23 lead into halftime. Powell was three-of-three from beyond the arc in the first half en route to 14 points.
After struggling to control the boards early on, UCSB got a boost from Elliott, who provided seven rebounds before the half. Elliott struggled with foul trouble in the second half, but he finished with eight points and 10 rebounds before fouling out late in the game.
“I really thought the difference in the first half was the play of Ivan off the bench and James off the bench and I thought [freshman forward Emmanuel Bidias a MoutŽ] chipped in and played pretty well off the bench as well,” Head Coach Bob Williams said.
Behind the hot hand of Harris, the Gauchos went on a 24-10 run to begin the second half. The Big West’s leading scorer finished with a game-high 22 points on six-of-13 shooting, including four-of-five from beyond the arc. Unlike in the teams’ previous meeting – when Pacific (11-17, 5-8 Big West) cut a 20-point second half deficit to three – the Gauchos never let the lead slip away.
UCSB held a double-digit lead throughout the second half, in large part to tough interior defense from Elliott, senior forward Glenn Turner and junior forward Chris Devine. Turner finished with six rebounds and two blocks. Devine failed to reach double-figures in scoring for only the third time this season, but he took two crucial charging fouls in the second half to stem any chance the Tigers had of getting their offense going.
“We’ve been playing the big lineup a little bit lately and we’ve just tried to have a different look at times,” Williams said. “We have decent depth right now on the front line and I like to just find a way to put that group together and see how they go.”
The Gauchos will finish off the regular season on Saturday when they host Cal State Northridge (14-15, 5-8 Big West) on Senior Day. Turner and senior guard Cecil Brown will be honored before the game, which has been moved from 7 p.m. to 4 p.m. to accommodate Fox Sports.