UCSB could not grind it out in the team’s final non-conference game of the regular season.
A raucous crowd at Dee Glen Smith Spectrum watched as Santa Barbara (20-7 overall, 9-4 in the Big West) fell to former conference foe Utah State 72-59 in an ESPNU O’Reilly BracketBusters game.
“We just didn’t fight enough with them at the defensive end,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “I don’t think we had enough in the tank. We scrapped for 30-32 minutes, and then the game kind of got away from us.”
Santa Barbara got 20 points apiece from senior guard Alex Harris and sophomore guard James Powell, but no other Gaucho scored more than five. Aggie freshman forward Tai Wesley had a game-high 24 points, while junior forward Gary Wilkinson chipped in 14 points and 12 rebounds. Utah State improves to 19-9 overall with the win, staying undefeated at home.
The teams jockeyed for position with seven ties in the first half, although UCSB struggled to find its shot, shooting just under 30 percent from the floor. Harris did lead all scorers with 12 points in the first 20 minutes, but three Aggies each posted six points in a more balanced attack.
A four-point Utah State advantage at the half soon grew to 10 after a 9-0 run by the home team came early in the second half. Senior All-American guard Jaycee Carroll, who made just two shots in the first half, found his stroke down the stretch and finished with 15.
“We did a good job on Jaycee, but we didn’t do a good job on Wesley,” Williams said. “I thought he kind of had his way with us by being a little too strong and a little too physical.”
Wesley scored 18 points in the second half and simply overpowered the Gauchos in the post. Junior forward Chris Devine tweaked his back, and senior forward Ivan Elliott was plagued by foul trouble, causing the tandem to combine for just six points and six rebounds in the loss. Powell came alive offensively for UCSB in the second half by draining five of his six threes as Santa Barbara did improve from the field, shooting 39.3 percent.
“In the second half, we shot the three pretty well,” Williams said. “We had a couple of open looks that we needed to go down, especially when we were trying to make a run at them. We snapped out of the three-point shooting a little bit. ”
Back-to-back threes from Powell brought the lead down to three with 6:16 left, but the Gauchos would come no closer. The Aggies completed a 12-0 run over the next three minutes and, eventually, took their biggest lead of the game in the final minute.
“They really cut us up at the end,” Williams said. “A big part of it was the times we just didn’t have anybody guarding someone down low, and that’s fatigue. And that’s just something you deal with when you come up on a Thursday, play on a Friday, and you’re just not used to it.”
UCSB will have over a week of rest before returning to the Thunderdome next Saturday for Senior Night.