The Mustangs may have wanted a rivalry, but what they got was an embarrassment.
On Saturday night in Mott Gymnasium, the UC Santa Barbara men’s basketball team (14-4, 3-2 in the Big West) cruised to a 75-60 win over conference rival Cal Poly (6-11, 1-4 in the Big West).
Senior guard Alex Harris scored a season-high 31 points to give him 1,438 career points and move him into third-place ahead of Doug Rex (1968-71) on UCSB’s all-time scoring list. The only other Gaucho in double-figures was sophomore guard James Powell, who hit three three-pointers and finished with 20 points, five assists and five rebounds.
“James is playing very aggressive, and when he’s knocking them down, it’s a great feeling because then I can sag off a bit, and they have to honor him so much that finally I get an open look every now and then,” Harris said. “He came out really early tonight with the intent on being aggressive, so that helped us.”
Although junior forward Chris Devine was hounded by the Mustang defense, it opened the door for senior forwards Ivan Elliott and Nedim Pajevic who combined for 11 points and 11 rebounds.
“[Cal Poly] did do a really nice job on Chris, and they took him out of the scoring area,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “I thought [Pajevic and Elliott] helped out a great deal, and they played pretty well when Chris got in foul trouble.”
The Mustangs got their crowd involved early on with four emphatic blocks in the first five minutes, but a four-point lead would be the biggest the home team could maintain. The Gauchos stormed back with a 14-2 run, giving life to their fans that made the trip, and Harris was four-for-four from the foul line, putting in nine of his 14 first-half points during that stretch.
“It’s a heated rivalry not only for the players, but for the fans,” Harris said. “[The Mustang fans] were live at the girls’ game, so I think it was important that we got a good start and silenced them.”
Cal Poly went on a 12-3 run of their own late in the game, but Powell would not miss on three consecutive trips to the free-throw line, and the Gauchos left San Luis Obispo with a comfortable victory. Junior guard Trae Clark led the Mustangs with 12 points and sophomore guard Lorenzo Keeler added 12 off the bench.
“They’re struggling shooting the ball right now for a bunch of kids that are actually good shooters,” Williams said. “But the history shows that Coach [Kevin] Bromley will get them straightened out by the end of the league.”
UCSB out-rebounded the Mustangs 39-30, converted its free throws at an efficient 83 percent and knocked down 10 three-pointers compared to just two from Cal Poly. The Mustangs did shoot better from the field than the Gauchos, but they were never able to come closer than 11 points in the second half.
“Just like after a big loss, after a big win, we really have to put it behind us because we have to go one game at a time,” Harris said. “We can’t have any slip-ups, and we have to take advantage of having five of the next six at home. That’s big. That’s really huge. Especially in the Big West where it’s so tough to get road wins.”
The Gauchos look to continue moving up in the Big West standings this Thursday when the Pacific Tigers come to town.
“We felt [Cal Poly] was a must-win situation for us,” Williams said. “If we’re going to stay in the neighborhood of [Pacific] and Northridge, we have to match them. And we need to build some momentum heading into our homestand, so this was a major win for us to build momentum.”