Don’t tell anyone, but the Gauchos are quietly making an under-the-radar run at the Big West Conference crown.
All but written off after a crushing home loss to UC Irvine almost two weeks ago, UCSB has reeled off three-straight wins, including a 60-53 victory last night over Pacific (17-9 overall, 8-5 in the Big West) at the Alex G. Spanos Center in Stockton. Over the past two seasons, the Gauchos (20-6, 9-4 Big West) have suffered their share of tough losses in front of big home crowds, but they’ve also made a habit of playing tough on the road – a trait that has the current squad within striking distance of first place. The preseason conference favorites are now 10-3 this season away from home, including a stunning 5-1 record in Big West road games. UCSB is now only a game out of second place, and a game and a half out of first, spots that would guarantee the Gauchos a bye into the Big West Tournament semifinals.
UCSB outscored Pacific 30-17 in the first half last night, largely because the Tigers were held to 30 percent shooting before the break. Pacific roared back with a strong second half, but the Gauchos had enough of a cushion to withhold the charge. Senior guard Alex Harris led the way with a game-high 17 points, allowing him to cross the 500-point threshold for the second-consecutive season. It was a balanced scoring effort for the Gauchos, with all five starters scoring at least six points.
Sophomore guard James Powell was the only other Gaucho in double figures, with 13 points, followed by junior forward Chris Devine (7 points), sophomore guard Justin Joyner (7) and senior forward Ivan Elliott (6). Freshman guard Jordan Weiner added five points off the bench, and senior forward Nedim Pajevic and sophomore guard Paul Roemer also contributed off the pine.
With the win, the Gauchos have won 20 games for the first time in six seasons. UCSB will go for 21 on Friday night in an ESPNU O’Reilly BracketBusters matchup against former Big West foe Utah State. The Utah Aggies (18-9) left the conference following the 2004-05 season to join the Western Athletic Conference, where they entered this season as preseason conference favorites, before faltering a bit in recent weeks.
For the sake of comparison, Utah State got smoked earlier this season by Cal Poly, a squad that UCSB has defeated handily twice this season. However, led by senior sharpshooter Jaycee Carroll (22.3 points per game), the Aggies should provide a tough matchup in a game that will be televised on ESPNU tomorrow at 6:05 p.m.