Despite a slow start on national television that saw UCSB match their lowest scoring output in a first half on the season, the Gauchos rallied to win a close game over UC Riverside 60-52 in the Thunderdome on Saturday night.
“We weren’t very pleased with how we played,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “But I think it is good for us to have to win a game like that.”
UCSB (13-8 overall, 8-3 Big West) remains tied with Cal State Fullerton (16-7, 8-3) for second place in the Big West. With the loss, Riverside (11-14, 5-7) falls to sixth place in conference.
On an off night for senior guard Orlando Johnson (12 points on 4-of-14 shooting), the rest of the squad picked up the slack. Senior forward Jaimé Serna led the Gauchos with 19 points and 9 rebounds and continues to be a model of efficiency on the inside. After 7-for-10, Serna is currently fifth in the nation with a 66.4 shooting percentage.
“I just wanted to come out and play hard,” Serna said. “I have some great teammates and they attract a lot of attention — we just gotta keep it rolling now.”
Senior forward James Nunnally added 15 points, and sophomore guard Kyle Boswell added a career-high six assists. Nunnally’s 15 points moved him past the 1,500 career points mark, as he became the sixth player in school history to exceed the landmark.
“I didn’t even realize,” Nunnally said of his scoring milestone. “That will matter one day down the line when I leave here, but right now I’m just trying to help my team win.”
UCSB came out ice cold in the first half, shooting 24.1 percent from the field, including 0-for-9 on three-pointers. Solid defense kept the Gauchos in the game and they entered the locker room down 23-30.
“We were coming off of six of our best practices, this and last week,” Williams said. “That first half didn’t remotely look like the team I have been coaching in practice. I challenged them a little bit in the locker room, because we haven’t played well on television.”
Santa Barbara came out of the locker room with a newfound energy and began to slowly chip away at Riverside’s lead. A Boswell three-pointer with 9:18 left to play brought the Gauchos within one point at 37-38, before another three-pointer by Nunnally gave UCSB its first lead of the game at 42-40. The Gauchos did not trail the rest of the way, using eight free throws in the last six minutes to seal the game 60-52.
The Gauchos will hit the road for three straight road games beginning next Wednesday at UC Irvine. UCSB will return home Feb. 25 to finish out its conference schedule with three straight home games.