It doesn’t hurt to be deep. It also doesn’t hurt to double up your opponent in second half scoring. On Saturday, the Gauchos had both of these ingredients working for them in a season-opening 85-57 blowout of Cal State Los Angeles. Playing without two of their marquee players, junior point guard Justin Joyner (ankle) and sophomore small forward James Nunnally (time-related issue), UCSB still managed to suit up 12 bodies and have four players finish in double figures.
“[Our depth] allows us to play a unique style,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “We’re going to utilize as many players as we can.”
Not soon after the opening tip, it was Cal State L.A. that looked to be the aggressor, jumping out to an early lead before a layup by senior guard Paul Roemer tied the game at 12 a little over five minutes in. Following Roemer’s move to the hoop, junior power forward Sam Phippen missed a pair of shots and turned the ball over, but more than made up for his blunders with three straight buckets to give his team a 23-14 lead.
“Sam is a much improved player,” Williams said. “He’s bigger, he’s stronger, but more than anything he’s improved from the neck up and is playing with confidence.”
Phippen’s spark off the bench ignited the Santa Barbara offense. Not settling for the jump shot, UCSB took repeated visits to the charity stripe and built up a 14-point lead with less than five minutes on the game clock. Unfortunately for the Gauchos, the first half did not close according to plan. A slew of missed three pointers and turnovers allowed the Golden Eagles to rattle off a 10-0 run, giving UCSB a narrow 40-36 advantage heading into the locker room.
“When they closed the gap, I thought we were fatigued and got very dribble happy,” Williams said.
After a disastrous end to the first half, the second half started off with a bang. Sophomore guard Orlando Johnson, who finished the game a perfect 7-for-7 from the field with a team-high 19 points, attacked the hoop like a player possessed. After the Loyola Marymount transfer scored on a slash into the paint, Johnson showed off his vertical and tip-slammed a missed hook by sophomore center Greg Somogyi to bring the fans in the Thunderdome to their feet.
“I felt like we needed to get something going inside, and Greg set it up perfect for me. … We’ve been practicing that shot,” Johnson said jokingly.
Over the next six minutes, the defensive intensity of Santa Bartbara caused five turnovers and a malady of missed shots, effectively shutting down any form of CSLA offense. After being outrebounded 24-12 by a smaller squad in the first half, every player in blue and gold swarmed the glass in the second period.
“As a team, we made [rebounding] an emphasis after the first half,” junior power forward Jon Pastorek said. “Paul Roemer and [sophomore guard] Will Brew really rebounded well in the second half.”
With things going well defensively, the offense had no problem showing up, as a pair of free-throws by junior guard Jordan Weiner capped a 19-2 UCSB run that put the game out of reach with a 61-38 margin. Though everything was clicking for the Gauchos on both ends of the court, the officials were quick with their whistles in the second half, allowing several Santa Barbara bench players to see extended action.
Though the second unit shined in extending and holding the lead, senior starter James Powell was a big reason the game fell in the home team’s favor, finishing the game with 14 points and five assists on 6-for-9 shooting. The 2007-08 All-Big West Honorable Mention regressed in his junior campaign, averaging only nine points per game on 33 percent shooting, but looks to have regained his old form.
“He doesn’t have that pressure on him anymore. … He knows we’ve got plenty of guys who can help him out,” Johnson said of his backcourt-mate.