The UCSB men’s basketball team proved Saturday they could win the pivotal games that can make or break a season. UCSB defeated Cal State Northridge 83-74 on the road to clinch a spot in the Big West Tournament, defeating the team that was battling to take the eighth and final spot away from the Gauchos.
With the victory, Santa Barbara snapped a four-game losing streak and improved to 9-19 overall and 5-11 in conference play. Northridge, meanwhile, drops to 13-17 overall and 4-13 in the Big West.
“[The victory] was pivotal. It put us in the tournament,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “Now we need to try to win a couple games at home and build some momentum in the tournament.”
Down 31-29 at the half, UCSB used a big offensive second half to take control of the game and ensure it would be playing well into March.
Sophomore center Alan Williams gave UCSB a huge boost with a career-high 32 points to go along with 16 rebounds and three blocks. Big Al scored 24 in the second half alone and finished 11-20 from the field and 10-13 from the free throw line on the night.
“It feels good to get in the rhythm of things and to get a little bit of my swagger back,” Big Al said. “It was really fun to be out there; the energy was great from the team.”
In his first game back from injury, junior forward Keegan Hornbuckle scored a season-high 10 points off the bench with eight coming in the second half. Junior guard Kyle Boswell also scored 18 for the Gauchos, a game after scoring a career-high 27 in Thursday’s loss at Hawaii.
“The first half, we just missed a lot of layups and open shots; we just couldn’t quite get it in sync,” Coach Williams said. “In the second half, Al, Boswell and Keegan Hornbuckle—the three of them really just took the game over.”
UCSB used the trio to overpower the Matadors, scoring 54 points in the second half alone. Freshman guard Michael Bryson added 14 points on the night, but kept the Gauchos in the game early with 13 of those points coming in the first half.
“I feel like we knew we were in control of the game,” Big Al said. “There were just a couple of plays in the first half that could have had us with a lead at halftime. We were just focused in the locker room knowing that we could go out and win this game, all we had to do was execute a little better and we did that as a team.”
The performances from Boswell and Hornbuckle were especially significant for UCSB as both players are coming back from injuries that left the Gauchos with a depleted squad of only eight eligible players.
Overall, Santa Barbara looked strong in its victory, outrebounding the Matadors 34-33, committing fewer turnovers (14-13) and shooting a higher percentage from the field (50.8-42.6 percent).
“Getting back healthy at this time of the year is really important for us,” Big Al said. “Once we get back to full strength, we’ll be a really tough team to beat. We’re looking forward to carrying on this momentum we have right now.”
UCSB returns home to face Cal State Fullerton on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Thunderdome.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of March 4st, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus