The UCSB men’s basketball team walked away from the Thunderdome Tuesday night with a convincing 89-56 thrashing over visiting Santa Clara, dominating the Broncos from beginning to end.
“I am extremely pleased,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “We stepped up to the competitive level of our opponents.”
The Gauchos were led by the prolific scoring duo of seniors Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally. Nunnally posted game-highs of 24 points and 8 rebounds, while Johnson scored 21 points on 12 shots.
“We feed off each other,” Johnson said of playing with Nunnally. “We are similar players who can create our own shots, and we are both good team players.”
On a team with prolific wing scorers and veteran inside presence, UCSB can only go as far as its defense will take it. High energy and urgency are vital for a Gaucho team that should have no struggle scoring the ball any given night. In the win over Santa Clara, Santa Barbara won the battle in every “hustle” category, tallying more rebounds, assists, and steals as well as fewer turnovers than the Broncos.
“The last few weeks, coach has really been preaching defense to us,” sophomore guard Kyle Boswell said. “Our defense is progressively getting better in practice and it showed in the game. It’s all about the energy level for us — that’s what makes our defense go.”
The two teams traded buckets to begin the game, going back and forth until UCSB called a timeout down 14-17 with 11 minutes left in the first half. The Gauchos came out of the timeout determined to put the game away. Behind lockdown defense and a patient, unselfish offense, UCSB scored 18 straight points, holding Santa Clara scoreless for almost seven minutes.
Overall, the Gauchos ended the first half on a 28-7 run that featured five different players scoring to stretch the lead to 42-24 at halftime. The run was highlighted by an alley-oop pass from Johnson to Nunnally, who slammed it down with just over three minutes to play.
“They are a good team, we just played really well tonight,” Nunnally said. “We came into this game with a focused mentality determined not to lose at home.”
Santa Clara, which shot 4-for-22 from three-point range, hit two straight from beyond the arc to open the second half as part of a 12-7 run to force a UCSB timeout.
Out of the timeout, the Gauchos stepped on the throat of the visiting Broncos, a solid team that was ranked in the preseason mid-major poll, and cruised the rest of the way to an easy victory. With multiple NBA scouts in the house, and the shot clock winding down on a possession late in the second half, Johnson received the ball near mid-court and stepped up to hit a shot well beyond the three point line, sending the Thunderdome into an uproar.
“I look to get more guys involved early in the game and try to be a facilitator,” Johnson said. “I like to make my mark scoring the ball later in the game.”
Four different players scored in double figures as the Gauchos cruised through the rest of the second half. Unselfish offensive play and great ball movement allowed UCSB to stretch the lead to as many as 32 points on two occasions before closing out the emphatic win by a convincing score of 89-56, the team’s biggest lead of the game.
“It’s fun to score in the high 70’s and low 80’s and we have the personnel to do it,” Williams said.
Boswell added 12 points for UCSB, and junior point guard Nate Garth dished out a game-high five assists, with some pretty passes to set up teammates as the Gauchos ran away with the game late in the second half. Senior forward Jaime Serna added 10 points and four rebounds before going down with an apparent right knee injury with 15 minutes left in the second half. Williams said Serna will be fine, and only suffered a bruised knee.
The Gaucho defense stifled the Santa Clara offense, which made 14 three-pointers in its season debut. Bronco guard Kevin Foster, who led the nation in three-pointers and the WCC in scoring last season, was held to only 12 points on 3-of-13 shooting and 1-of-8 from three.
UCSB returns to the court next on Friday when it hosts NAIA opponent Westmont at home in the Thunderdome.