A career night from sophomore guard Paul Roemer was not enough to bring UC Santa Barbara back, as the Gauchos fell to UC Irvine 66-63 on the road.
UCSB (12-4 overall, 1-2 in Big West) trailed by as many as 18 points in the second half, but managed to cut the lead down to one with four steals in the last three minutes. UC Irvine improves to 6-9, 1-1 in Big West even though Roemer stepped up for career-high 12 points (4 from 3-pt range) with sophomore guard Justin Joyner on the bench in foul trouble. Senior guard Alex Harris had 15 points, senior forward Ivan Elliott added 12 and UCSB was 7-of-13 from downtown in the second half, but Irvine managed to hold on.
“We’re really struggling at finding our team rhythm offensively,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “And I think it kind of carried over to the defensive end. There just wasn’t the purpose defensively for the first 30 minutes of the game.”
Senior forward Patrick Sanders led Irvine with 16 points and senior center Darren Fells contributed 12 points and 13 rebounds, but the big surprise for the Anteaters was 14 points from junior guard Brett Lauer.
“Fells and Sanders are both tough athletic kids,” Williams said. “But I don’t think we played very inspired in terms of finishes on the defensive end. They really used the shot clock well, and it wore us out chasing them. This is two games in a row that we panicked offensively when we had opportunities to be in games, and it’s not the veteran tough team that we have.”
Both teams came out on fire from long-range to begin the second half. Harris energized UCSB by cutting the deficit to three with a corner triple on the Gauchos’ first possession, and Roemer got his second three of the contest two minutes later. However, UCI went 6-of-7 from the floor in the first four minutes, and the Gauchos trailed by 10 when a fourth foul was called on Joyner midway through the second half.
Devine and Joyner later combined for four steals in three minutes, which brought the Gauchos within one with 40 seconds left. But with a chance to retake the lead, UCSB was unable to drive the ball on Irvine, and with another chance and 10 seconds left, Harris was bumped and turned the ball over out of bounds.
“We came back with the zone and contained them so when we threw the press back on them, it rattled them a bit. And we got some big threes to get ourselves back in it,” Williams said. “When you make that charge back and don’t exactly get the shot up, it’s pretty frustrating.”
UCSB’s road trip continues as the Gauchos take on the Cal State Fullerton Titans this Saturday in Titan Gym. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.