If last night was any indicator, the Thunderdome is going to be the site of some amazing basketball games this year. It’s just too bad for the home fans that the Gauchos lost.

The UCSB men’s basketball danced with Utah State last night, and although Santa Barbara had the final look, the Aggies squeaked by with the 61-59 win. Despite the loss, Head Coach Bob Williams felt that his squad showed some positive growth, especially out of the five underclassmen who recorded minutes.

“I’m as optimistic after this loss as I’ve been in years after a loss because I saw things out there and really think we’re going to get better and better and build off it,” Williams said.

Santa Barbara was led by junior guard James Powell and senior forward Chris Devine, who both had 14 points. The pair was the only of the Gauchos to score in double digits, but nine separate players scored. Powell only hit two of his eight three-point attempts but came up huge with a confident trey to tie the game at 59-59 with under 30 seconds to play.

“One thing that I’ve been talking to the coaching staff about is, when my shots not falling, trying to do other things to stay in the game,” Powell said. “I was trying to focus more on my defense tonight so that if my shot isn’t going the way I want I can still make an impact in the game.”

The story of both halves for Santa Barbara was a 12-0 Utah State run halfway through each period. The Gauchos closed the gap nicely in the first half, with sophomore forward Sam Phippen draining a three with a minute to go to put UCSB down 27-30, but they couldn’t find another basket and headed into the locker room down three. Both runs were helped in large part by occasionally lackluster SB defense as well as Utah State out-rebounding the Gauchos 36-25.

“I think they did a good job of crashing,” Powell said. “Our game plan was to go in there and rebound, and their game plan was probably also to go in there and rebound, and they just did a better job of doing that.”

On the flip side, Santa Barbara forced 22 turnovers while giving up 12, which kept them in the game.

“I think definitely we created [a +10 turnover differential],” Williams said. “Our guard pressure was pretty good. If you have to look at anything we did defensively that I’m pleased with, it’s that we got them breaking it down. I don’t think our rotation was good tonight, first or second half. We left too many open shooters, no doubt about it.”

In the second half with the score tied 41-41, the Aggies held the Gauchos scoreless for four and a half minutes until junior forward Jesse Byrd killed the second 12-0 rally by showcasing his super smooth sky hook. A minute later, freshman guard Will Brew, just barely back in the lineup after a preseason concussion, made his presence known by swiping a steal and setting up senior guard D.J. Posley for a lay-up to put Santa Barbara back within 10. Afterward, Brew, who had an excellent night with five assists and three steals in 19 minutes, let loose with some high intensity passion that was framed perfectly by the huge, rowdy home crowd.

“I don’t know if you heard me during the game because it was pretty loud, but I was a big fan of Will tonight,” Powell said. “He makes plays that people on our team are not used to playing, so it’s good to see a freshman come in and play with that kind of confidence.”

After the game, Brew said he was stoked on the crowd but just wanted to get his teammates going.

“I like that atmosphere,” Brew said. “It feels good. I’m just trying to get my teammates involved. I’m out there and I feel it.”

Freshman center Greg Somogyi got going in a big way in the closing minutes of the game, first by slamming down a rebound with 6:32 to play while the crowd went wild. Then, with 3:53 left, Powell sent a huge alley-oop from about six feet behind the arc into Somogyi, who used all of his 7’2″ height to jam the ball home.

Powell then went off to close out the game, banking in a beautiful double clutch runner through the lane at 2:03 and then hitting the tying shot at the end of the game.

With the shot clock off, Utah State held the ball for the final shot, and scored to go up 61-59 with three seconds left. Devine found sophomore guard Jordan Weiner free on the inbounds play, and Weiner got a running three off from just outside the arc but couldn’t finish it.

Brew said that the feeling in the locker room post game was disappointed, but positive.

“Devine said that we’re going to take lumps, but later on in the year it’s going to be different,” Brew said. “The freshmen are going to step up, the bench is going to step up and we’re going to get it going.”