After the Pepperdine men’s basketball team inadvertently disrespected America by returning to the locker rooms just before the national anthem, UCSB spent the rest of the night disrespecting the Waves, running them off the floor in a 68-57 victory that was not nearly as close as the final score indicated.
The Gauchos (8-1 overall) used a 16-1 first half run to take a lead that would balloon to 26 midway through the first half. Pepperdine (4-6) shot and made 16 out of 24 second half free-throws to keep the game close, but the Gauchos dominated throughout en route to one of their most complete victories of the season.
Sophomore guard James Powell – the reigning Big West Co-Player of the Week – led the charge for the Gauchos, along with senior guard Alex Harris, who had a big first half despite being under the weather the last few days. Harris scored 13 first half points on five-of-six shooting, and finished with a game-high 22 points. Powell got to the rim at will throughout the game, finishing with 13 points on five-of-10 shooting, including two-of-three from beyond the arc. After UCSB fell behind 7-0 to start the game, Powell drove to the hoop for an easy layup, getting the Gauchos on the board, and starting a run that would allow UCSB to pull away.
“James [Powell] always has a swagger about him,” Harris said. “If you’re big shot James, I don’t see how you couldn’t.”
While Powell and Harris led the way offensively, it was UCSB’s tenacious defense set the tone throughout the game, as the Gauchos forced 25 turnovers and came away with 16 steals.
“We were really good defensively at times. I thought we went through some periods where we were dominated defensively,” Head Coach Bob Williams said.
In what has become a trend this season, UCSB dominated from beyond the three-point line, shooting five-of-eight for the game to finish at a stellar 69.2 percent. Five different players got in the act, led by Harris who finished four-of-five on threes.
“The nice thing is that there’s so many different guys that can step out and hit [threes],” Williams said. “We’ve got a lot of different guys that can step out and shoot it, and what I liked best is that we shot it well, but we didn’t live [at the three-point line]. We had balanced scoring and we didn’t get caught up shooting the three. That’s a sign of maturity that I love.”
The frontcourt tandem of junior forward Chris Devine and senior forward Ivan Elliott took control of the game down low, with Devine racking up ten points and seven rebounds, and Elliott finishing with eight points, five rebounds, and two blocks.
“I thought Ivan [Elliott] was tremendous tonight. His numbers don’t show how much he affected the game,” Williams said. “He was absolutely dominant out there the first half.”
Pepperdine used mini-runs to get some momentum going at the beginning of both halves, but the Waves struggled offensively on a night where they shot only 38 percent from the field, and 19 percent from beyond the arc. The cold shooting combined with a bevy of turnovers allowed the Waves to fall behind 56-30 with 11 minutes remaining in the second half. From there, the Gauchos took their foot off the gas a little, and a number of trips to the free-throw line allowed the Waves to make the final score look respectable.
“Our defense backed off the last four minutes or so,” Williams said. “When we got up by 26, its pretty hard to play with that same fierce intensity so I think we slipped a little bit at that time and they took advantage of it.”
The Gauchos are back in action on Friday night at 7 p.m., when they host Utah Valley State in their final game before a 12 day break for finals. Following the hiatus, the team embarks on its toughest road trip of the season. A Dec. 19 game against Ball State and a Dec. 29 date with Eastern Washington sandwich UCSB’s hardest games of the year. On Dec. 22, the Gauchos return to Chapel Hill, N.C. to take on the University of North Carolina, the nation’s top team.
Eastern Washington came into Santa Barbara last year and escaped with a 71-70 victory, behind a strong outing from future NBA first-round pick Rodney Stuckey. The Gauchos got blown out by North Carolina 83-66 two years ago, but only two current players – Devine and Harris – remain from that squad.
“Playing [UNC] is going to be a real exciting challenge for us and it’s a great opportunity,” Williams said. “We’re hoping to take things one game at a time, and before we know it the students will be back on campus and we’ll have some big league games”