After a relentless first-half attack and another dominant scoring effort from junior guard Orlando Johnson, the UCSB men’s basketball team never let UC Riverside get within striking distance in a 64-57 victory at the Thunderdome on Saturday night.
[media-credit id=16616 align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]With the win, UCSB (10-6 overall, 3-2 Big West) jumps to second place in the conference along with Cal Poly. Both teams trail Long Beach State, which remains undefeated in the conference at 6-0. Riverside, once the punching bag of the conference, dropped to 2-2 in Big West play and 7-9 overall.
UCSB took a 10-point lead heading into halftime after Johnson made all seven of his field goal attempts, including one three-pointer. Johnson, who is UCSB’s top scorer with 19.4 points per game, finished with 28 points on 11-16 shooting and seven rebounds in 38 minutes. He earned Big West Player of the Week honors after the performance.
“With Orlando, what you saw … is a more aggressive guy at the rim,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “When Orlando mixes his game like that, he’s really, really tough to play.”
The Highlanders opened the second half with a 7-2 run to bring the Gauchos’ lead down to five, but the team picked up its defensive intensity for the remainder of the half to put the game away.
“You hope that teams’ legs get a little tired and that we wear on them,” Williams said. “I think [our defense] did wear on them a little bit, some of the shots they made in the first half, they didn’t make in the second. It’s a much better defensive effort and I think that we’re gradually developing a little more moxie on the defensive end.”
Junior guard Javon Borum came into the game averaging 25 points for the Highlanders, but UCSB held him to just 12 points on 4-13 shooting from the field.
“[During] the second half we made a better attempt to get to him,” Williams said. “He’s a quick, confident guy. We’re keeping him in front and now we get a good contest without having to fly by him, and that’s what we did on him.”
Though Johnson and junior guard James Nunnally supplied the offense — Nunnally was the only other Gaucho in double figures, putting up 19 points — a large part of the defensive effort Williams talked about came from other places.
Senior guards Justin Joyner and Jordan Weiner tallied a combined 11 assists for UCSB and each posted a steal. “I liked this week, the mentality of Jordan and of JJ,” Williams said. “Weiner reminded me more of how he played last year. He contributes in a variety of ways, so I think he’s finding his groove a little bit in what makes us good.”
One Gaucho missing from the action was junior forward Jaimé Serna, who is out with a hip injury. Serna averages 3.6 rebounds for the squad and shoots 55 percent from the field.
“You never can get used to playing without him. Jaimé brings a whole different type of animal to the court, so once he comes back, we’re going to be that much better.”
Serna and the rest of the squad will have a week off to heal after the team’s two games in three days. On Jan. 22, the Gauchos will have a chance to push their conference win streak to three as they take on Cal State Fullerton on the road. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:05 p.m.