One team pounded it into the paint. The other settled for outside shots and got burned. On a night where Weber State shot 7-for-38 from three-point land, the UC Santa Barbara men’s basketball team came out with a huge 66-57 nonconference win over the reigning Big Sky Champions.
Led by sophomore guard Orlando Johnson, who finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, the Gauchos drove the ball into the interior and were rewarded with 39 foul shots, using their physicality to help kick off their 2009-10 season with two straight wins.
“The more physical we are, the better chance we have to win all year,” Johnson said. “We got to the line 39 times, and they got to the line 18 times. … That shows who the more physical team was.”
In the early going, the more physical team may not have been obvious, but the hotter shooting team was evident. With the help of five straight points from sophomore guard Will Brew to open up the scoring, and seven straight from Johnson to close the run, UCSB jumped out to a 14-0 advantage capped by a three-point hit from the wing.
Unlike their opponent, the Wildcats — a normally deadly team from distance — did not hit their first three-ball until the 7:27 mark when senior guard Nick Hansen brought his team within eight. Hansen connected from beyond the arc a second time in the final minute of the half, but the Gauchos still maintained a 30-20 double digit lead going into the locker room.
Though their shooting cooled down after a torrid start, an emphasis on “gang-rebounding” out of a zone defense helped UCSB maintain a sizeable first half deficit. After losing the battle of the boards 24 to 12 against Cal State Los Angeles through the first 20 minutes of their season opener on Saturday, Santa Barbara made great strides on the glass with a 23-19 first half edge over the Wildcats.
“Playing the zone you don’t have a certain man to block out, you have a certain area,” junior power forward Jon Pastorek said. “We did a good job out-rebounding a big, physical team. … It was a five-man effort.”
Though everything went smoothly for the home team in the first period, UCSB had to weather a couple runs in the second as Weber State began to find the bottom of the net. After converting on several easy buckets created through dribble penetration, Weber State cut it to 39-36 off a Gaucho turnover with 13:45 remaining.
“[Weber State] did a tremendous job of giving us things to work on with our zone defense,” Head Coach Bob Williams said.
Four minutes later, struggling Wildcat sophomore guard Damian Lillard hit his first three of the contest to bring his team to within two at 43-41. The All-Big Sky First Teamer reacted to his field goal with a head shake and cold stare at the home fans in attendance, almost to signal UCSB that the game was far from over.
“At the beginning of the game they were missing a lot of shots, but we knew that wasn’t how it was going to go for the entire game,” Pastorek said. “Eventually, they started to knock some down.”
After Lillard’s deep three silenced the Thunderdome, junior forward Sam Phippen quickly brought the momentum back to the Gaucho side of the ball, stuffing a lay-up try by Wildcat forward Darin Mahoney and running the floor to convert a lay-up of his own on the other end.
“It was a huge play,” Williams said. “We need those kinds of quality runs, because they translate into a) fatiguing the other team and b) easy buckets.”
Whether Weber State was tired or if UCSB just caught fire, the Gauchos were able to rebuild a 10-point advantage with under five minutes to go before hitting free throws down the stretch to seal the deal.
“We were shooting in the double bonus early in the second half and were fortunate to knock down our free throws late to help ice the game,” Pastorek said.
Though aggressive drives by Johnson down the stretch set the tone in the final Santa Barbara spurt, the hustle of the LMU transfer almost knocked him and Assistant Coach David Campbell out of the game midway through the second half after O.J. dove into the bench trying to secure an offensive rebound.
“He’s a lucky man,” Johnson said of Campbell avoiding the collision. “I’m glad I could finish the game and help my teammates win it.”