With 50 personal fouls between them in a battle for Big West supremacy, it is fitting that the deciding play of the game came down to a whistle.
Clinging to a 68-67 lead, sophomore guard Will Brew stepped in to draw a charge with 0.6 seconds remaining to give the Gauchos (8-6 overall, 3-1 Big West) a heart-stopping win over Pacific (9-6, 2-1), the only Big West team that was still undefeated in conference. Brew’s defensive stop marked the final call by a team of referees that had both teams shaking their heads down the stretch.
“There were so many iffy calls out there tonight we didn’t know how it was going to go, but we really came together there at the end,” sophomore guard Orlando Johnson said.
Though the game was physical throughout, things got especially chippy in the final minutes. Moments after Pacific’s Allen Huddleston was called for a technical foul, Tigers’ Head Coach Bob Thomason was tacked with one of his own on the ensuing inbounds play after a referee incorrectly told UCSB sophomore forward James Nunnally that he could run the baseline.
With the Pacific bench up in arms, Nunnally calmly knocked down all four technical free throws to give Santa Barbara a seven point advantage with only 1:22 remaining. Unfortunately for UCSB, the game was far from over. With the help of a three-point play on a questionable goaltending call, UOP came back to trail by only one with 20 seconds left before Brew came through in the clutch.
“You don’t want to see officials feel guilty for mistakes and have that cloud their judgment … that’s what you fear as a coach,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said.
Leading by as much as 13 in the second half, the Gauchos probably never expected the game to come down to the wire. Though Pacific’s press gave the Gauchos problems advancing the ball, the home team maintained a comfortable lead for the majority of the period, led by Johnson who lit it up with 24 points and seven rebounds on 7-for-9 shooting from the field. Johnson was also perfect from beyond the arc, netting all four of his three-point attempts.
Nunnally also continued his recent roll with 20 points and six rebounds playing against Tiger forward and older brother Michael Nunnally for the first time in his collegiate career.
But while Johnson and Nunnally shined on the stat sheet, Brew was easily the player of the game. The Gaucho starting point guard led the charge against repeated full-court traps and came up with key defensive plays when they mattered most.
“Will Brew played a great game,” Johnson said. “He’s definitely taking this team on his shoulders and becoming more of a leader.”
Before the pandemonium that preceded Pacific’s technical fouls, the Tigers crept back into the game with defensive pressure that forced 14 second-half Santa Barbara turnovers. But with the exception of not taking care of the ball, the Gauchos can hang their hats on a hard-fought win and a first place standing in the Big West.
“The only disappointment in this whole thing is the 14 turnovers in the second half,” Williams said. “We got soft with the ball, but the fact is, we held on.”