UCSB’s Big West regular season title hopes took a devastating hit last night at the hands of the University of the Pacific. The Gauchos (14-5 overall, 3-3 in the Big West) couldn’t get anything going offensively until the game’s final two minutes, dropping a 71-58 decision to the Tigers (14-5, 5-1 Big West).
In what has become an unfortunate theme for the team this season, Santa Barbara got off to a very slow start, shooting 24 percent from the field in the first half to fall behind 26-17 at the break. The Gauchos used a 7-0 run early in the second half to nearly erase the deficit, but the Tigers’ junior guard Chad Troyer went off from beyond the arc to put the Tigers ahead by as many as 18 points at one point in the second half.
“This has happened to us before where we’ve had [poor first halves] so we weren’t worried,” sophomore guard James Powell said. “We came out in the second half and made a little run, but they came back and made some big shots. Every time we came with something they just countered us. I guess it was their night.”
Powell finished with 13 points for the Gauchos, on four-of-12 shooting. Nobody on UCSB finished above 50 percent from the field, and the going was particularly tough for Santa Barbara’s top two scorers. Senior guard Alex Harris was one-for-seven on three-pointers on the way to a four-for-12 shooting night. Harris finished with a team-high 15 points before fouling out in the game’s final minutes. Junior forward Chris Devine scored 14 points but he needed 14 shots to do so. However he did reach a significant milestone, becoming the 22nd player in school history to reach the 1,000-point mark.
Senior forward Ivan Elliott finished with eight points and nine rebounds, while freshman guard Jordan Weiner added six points on a pair of three-pointers.
Facing a gaudy deficit, UCSB had a chance to make things interesting in the game’s final minutes when they resorted to fouling the Tigers on every possession and taking three-pointers on the other end. Powell and Weiner did their best to cut into the lead, but Troyer and junior forward Anthony Brown hit just enough free throws to keep the Gauchos at bay. The Gauchos had a chance to cut the lead to six with just under a minute to go, but a costly turnover killed Santa Barbara’s hopes for good.
UCSB shot only 32 percent for the game, including an eight-for-26 performance from beyond the arc. At times it looked like there was a lid on the basket, as shot after shot spun around the rim before falling out and settling into the hands of a Pacific defender. One second-half possession in particular proved to be a microcosm of the Gauchos night, as Weiner rimmed out a three-pointer from the corner, followed by Powell’s follow up three going in and out as well.
“Sometimes the ball just doesn’t drop,” Powell said. “You’re going to have nights where you miss more than you make and this was just one of those nights.”
On the other end, it seemed like everything that the Tigers threw up in the second half found the bottom of the net. One three-pointer hit the back of the rim and went straight into the air before dropping through the basket, while another attempt from Troyer was good from about 28 feet out. Troyer finished the night six-of-nine on three-pointers, en route to a game-high 27 points. Brown was the only other Tiger in double-figures with 10 points to go along with a game-high 12 rebounds.
With the loss, UCSB falls two games behind the Tigers in the Big West standings, and two and a half games behind first place Cal State Northridge (13-4, 5-0 Big West). The Gauchos currently sit in fourth place with UC Davis (8-11, 2-4 Big West) coming into town on Saturday night. Despite falling further behind the league leaders, the Gauchos aren’t worried about their current Big West record.
“When you get into the [Big West Tournament] that’s where you really need to win,” Elliott said. “I don’t think we’re worried, we’ll pick it up and we’ll be fine. We have to play both [Northridge and Pacific] again so I’m sure we’ll be well prepared for them.”
The Gauchos have a good chance to get back in the win column on Saturday against the Aggies, as UC Davis lost last night to a Cal Poly team that UCSB beat last weekend. The opening tip-off on Saturday is set for 7 p.m. at the Thunderdome.