After starting the season 10-3 and fighting for first place in the Big West conference during the regular season, the UCSB men’s basketball team suffered a disappointing loss in the Big West Tournament.
The Gauchos (18-11 overall, 9-5 in the Big West) fell behind early and never recovered, eventually getting blown out 70-52 by UC Irvine (15-18 overall, 6-8 Big West) in the conference quarterfinals. UCSB won both regular season matchups against the Anteaters, but the Gauchos shot a season low 31 percent from the field, and at one point in the second half trailed by 24 points.
“Any time you don’t make it to the championship game or reach the goals that you’ve set for yourself for a whole year, how can that not be your worst nightmare?” junior guard Alex Harris said. “They came out ready to play and they were focused and fired up and they executed everything to near perfection. They played their butts off so they deserved to go on to the next round and we deserved to watch.”
The Anteaters jumped out to a 28-18 halftime lead, in large part to their dominance on the boards, in what turned out to be a very physical game. UC Irvine ended any hopes of a Gaucho comeback at the start of the second half, going on a 17-8 run to extend the lead to 45-26 with 15:35 left to play. The Anteaters made six-of-eight shots during the run, including all five of their attempts from beyond the arc.
“We were obviously not very well prepared to play,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “They came out and got hot early in the second half and when we finally got on track offensively, it was just too little too late. They went right at us and we didn’t respond very well.”
As has become his custom, Harris led the all scorers with 22 points to go along with six rebounds. The First Team All-Big West selectee finished the season 11th in the country in scoring at 21.1 points per game. His season total of 611 points is the third highest in school history, leaving Harris 618 points short of UCSB’s career scoring record going into his senior season.
The loss also meant the end to the careers of seniors Glenn Turner and Cecil Brown. The duo combined for only six points against UC Irvine with Turner adding a game-high 10 rebounds. Despite continuous bouts with injuries by both players, Brown finished his career seventh on the school list for three pointers made, while Turner finished fourth in school history in blocked shots.
“I came in as a boy and I’m going out as a man,” Turner said. “I love the players on this team and I appreciate Coach Williams for everything he’s done for me. I just want to thank everyone for not giving up on me with all the injuries that I’ve had.”
The loss wasn’t entirely without encouraging signs, as freshmen guards Justin Joyner and James Powell continued to show that they will form a strong backcourt for years to come. Joyner and Powell combined for 14 points and they played tenacious full court defense even after the game was far out of reach.
The Anteaters went on to lose in the semifinals to Long Beach State, who earned their first Big West Tournament Championship with a 94-83 victory over Cal Poly.