The UCSB men’s basketball team picked up a much-needed 65-56 win over UC Irvine Saturday to build a bit of momentum in their second-to-last road game of the season. The Gauchos (9-13 overall, 3-7 Big West) dominated the glass against the Anteaters (8-15, 5-5), out-rebounding the home team 34-26. The eight board advantage was crucial in helping Santa Barbara overcome a 10-point deficit in the first half and run away with the win. Assistant Coach Matt Stock said that a switch to a taller lineup helped UCSB around the rim.
“We kind of changed things up a little a bit,” Stock said. “We started realizing that our length could cause Irvine a problem, so we decided to play big. We feel that from the front line perspective, we have the ability to be the best in the league. If you looked statistically across the game in general, a team that out-rebounds another team usually wins. If you can out-rebound someone by eight there’s no doubt that it gives you a significant advantage.”
Leading the glass-cleaning charge was junior forward Jesse Byrd, who has been rock-solid despite being limited in minutes as he continues to recover from knee surgery. In just 10 minutes, Byrd snagged a game-high six boards, including four on the offensive end.
“That’s a big performance, especially with him just coming off of an injury,” Stock said. “Jesse’s huge for us. To have him come out and rebound the way he did, especially on the offensive glass, is a major boost.”
Treating the UCI fans to a superb performance, senior forward Chris Devine led UCSB with 19 points off 8-12 shooting in his consistently efficient fashion. Devine, the Gauchos’ biggest leader and court marshal, also picked up five rebounds and a steal on the night.
“I thought, and continue to think, that Chris is playing really well,” Stock said. “If we can get others on the team to match his performance we are going to be in great shape. He’s showing why he is a three-time, and possibly fourth, All-Big West selection. His performance was huge, the guys are all pumped to see him play like that.”
Right behind Devine was freshman guard Will Brew, whose 12 second-half points helped stretch out and maintain the Gauchos’ lead. Brew has torn apart UCI in both of the teams’ meetings this year, and finished with 14 Saturday night.
“Brew has had some really good shooting nights against Irvine, he’s 9-10 from three against them this year, 6-7 last game and 3-3 last night,” Stock said. “The three-point performance from him was crucial.”
The Gauchos were down 30-20 with under three minutes to go in the first half, but closed out the period with a blistering 9-0 run. After the break, Irvine strung out their lead for another 10 minutes, but Santa Barbara closed the second stanza hot, steamrolling the Anteaters with a 22-11 run in the final nine minutes. Head Coach Bob Williams said that the way his team finished the first stanza was the key to gaining enough momentum to snag the win.
“The way we ended the first half was huge,” Williams told ucsbgauchos.com. “To go into the locker room down one after being 10 back so late was real important for our confidence. I thought we carried the momentum over into the second half.”
UCSB returns home this weekend to close out the second half of the Big West season with six of their next seven games in the friendly confines of the Thunderdome. Stock said that getting a win on the road is a huge boost for a team that is finally starting to get the ball rolling again.
“We all know that during this entire league play we can and have had a chance to win every game,” Stock said. “Getting this monkey off our back and getting this slide behind us is a big step forward. To get in there and get a big road win against Irvine, we’re excited and encouraged.”