ANAHEIM, Calif. — UCSB avenged its two regular-season losses to Pacific on Thursday afternoon, hitting 11 of its 18 three-point attempts and shooting just under 71 percent in the second half to beat the Tigers 79-67 in the quarterfinals of the Big West Men’s Basketball Tournament at the Honda Center.
Junior guard Orlando Johnson scored 32 points and junior forward James Nunnally added 19 in the effort, which pushed the Gauchos into the semifinals tomorrow (March 10) against Cal State Northridge.
UCSB led by as many as 22 points against Pacific, hitting buckets at opportune times and generally looking much different from the team that struggled to maintain its second half intensity only two games ago. On the defensive end, the Gauchos held Pacific to 27 percent shooting in the first half and 38 percent shooting for the game.
“I was really pleased with the defensive effort,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said. “It was one of our best played games, no doubt.”
Pacific never led the game after the 13:19 mark in the first half, when Johnson stole a ball off the dribble from Tiger guard Terrell Smith and broke away for a one-handed windmill dunk to give the Gauchos a 12-11 lead. He hit a three-pointer a minute later, which was followed by one from senior guard Jordan Weiner. Four players made more than one shot from behind the arc.
“We haven’t guarded anybody in the last month,” Tiger Head Coach Bob Thomason said.
Down by 15 points with less than 16 minutes to go in the second half, the Tigers scored six straight points off two consecutive Gaucho turnovers to drop UCSB’s lead to nine and force a timeout.
“My guys are advising me not to [expose] exactly what I said to our guards,” Williams said. “[There were] two transitions in a row where we didn’t run anything.”
Johnson missed a jumper off the timeout, but Nunnally stole the ball back and hit him on a fast break, where he made the layup and drew the foul.
“Nun’s steal was crucial,” Williams said. “[We made] plays like that last year – we just haven’t made those this year. Clutch performances at the right time.”
Senior guard Justin Joyner led all players with nine assists, including a difficult backdoor bounce-pass to Johnson from the left wing to bring UCSB’s lead to 18 with 6:35 to play in regulation.
After finishing the season with an 8-8 conference record and the fifth seed heading into the Big West Tournament, UCSB will face third-seeded Cal State Northridge tomorrow in a 9 p.m. game, after top-seeded Long Beach State takes on UC Riverside at 6:30 p.m. The Matadors swept the Gauchos during the season.
“We’ve made a real commitment in the last couple of weeks,” Williams said. “We’ve finally found it. [Sustaining] it is going to be the key in this tournament.”