It’s been an up-and-down season for sophomore center Greg Somogyi, alternating dominant efforts in the middle with games marred by turnovers and poor shot selection. After Saturday night’s bracket busting block party, the big man might have a case for breaking into the Gaucho starting five.
Somogyi set a school record with eight blocked shots, and sophomore guard Orlando Johnson broke out for a game-high 23 points as visiting UC Santa Barbara (16-8 overall, 10-3 Big West) defeated Fresno State (13-15 overall, 6-7 Western Athletic Conference) 64-60 in a nonconference matchup on Saturday night. The win is UCSB’s fifth straight victory in a streak that includes four games on the road.
“We used him to our advantage on both ends,” junior forward Jon Pastorek said of Somogyi. “On defense we would funnel [Fresno State] players into the middle and he obviously did his job with eight blocks.”
Right after the Santa Barbara seven-footer checked into the game with four minutes gone in the first half, the Gaucho offense caught fire, scoring 14 unanswered points. During the five-minute Bulldog drought, Somogyi sent away a pair of FSU offerings and slammed home a pair of rim-rockers on the offensive side off lobs from Pastorek and senior guard James Powell. Johnson capped off the run with a three-point hit to put the score at 21-6 with 10:55 left on the clock.
“[Orlando’s] been consistent for us all year with scoring the ball, and that didn’t change against Fresno,” Pastorek said.
After being down by double digits, the Bulldogs came back to trail by only four at halftime, leaving the score 32-28. With their once comfortable lead in jeopardy to open the second half, the Gaucho defense stepped it up, holding the home team to 30 percent shooting in the period.
“[The Bulldogs] are a very talented team, but our defense really shut them down when it counted,” Pastorek said.
Though they kept Fresno State at bay for most of the second half, UCSB’s own shooting woes finally caught up to them as the Bulldogs tied it at 55-55 with 4:32 remaining. Determined to put the finishing touches on a game where they never trailed, Santa Barbara scored the next five unanswered. Hanging tough, FSU countered with a quick four points off back-to-back jumpers to put the score at 60-59 with 2:27 left to play.
The one-point advantage stood up after three UCSB stops, forcing Fresno to intentionally foul with only 13 seconds to go. Fortunately for the Gauchos, the man at the line was their best free thrower in Powell, who calmly knocked down a pair from the stripe. A Santa Barbara turnover off the ensuing inbound gave the Bulldogs one last chance to steal a win, but a missed three followed by two Johnson free throws put the game away for good.
“Powell’s free throws were huge for us,” Pastorek said. “We’ve been in a lot of close situations down the stretch, and our free throwing has definitely helped us.”
Next up for UCSB is a meeting with Cal State Northridge as the Gauchos return to the Thunderdome Wednesday at 7 p.m. for their second to last conference test. The Matadors are one of only three teams to hand Santa Barbara a Big West loss in the 2009-10 season.