A scoreless four-minute stretch to open the second half of Saturday’s game against Hawai’i doomed the UC Santa Barbara men’s basketball team, which lost 63-70 in Honolulu.
The loss dropped the Gauchos to 12-6 on the season and 1-2 in Big West play, while the Rainbow Warriors improved to 12-6 and 3-0.
UCSB and Hawai’i went blow-for-blow in the first half, neither team able to crack open a sturdy lead. The Gauchos jumped ahead to start, the Rainbow Warriors swung back and took a 26-18 lead and UCSB closed the half on a 17-7 run to go up 35-33.
The Gauchos shot 44.7 % from the field and made just one 2 3-pointers, doing most of their damage from inside the arc instead. Junior guard JaQuori McLaughlin led the way with 10 points, while senior guard Max Heidegger and junior forward Robinson Idehen both chipped in 6 points off the bench.
For whatever reason, the rim was much less hospitable to the Gauchos in the second half. A Max Heidegger layup, almost four minutes into the half, provided UCSB’s first points of the period and stanched an 8-0 Hawaii run.
The damage, however, was done. The Gauchos never led again, or even managed to trim the lead down to two.
UCSB’s shooting numbers fell off a cliff to 36% in the second half, while Hawai’i’s stayed stable at 50%. Heidegger was the lone bright spot for the Gauchos with 15 points in the second half, giving him a game-high 21 overall, but his teammates were only able to muster up 13 points combined in the last 20 minutes.
Futile as it was, Heidegger’s offensive performance was a promising sign for UCSB. Saturday’s game was the senior’s second since returning from a 10-game absence and was an impressive return to form.
The Rainbow Warriors, on the other hand, pulled ahead with a balanced attack that saw four players score at least 6 points, but no player scored more than 8 points in the second half. Hawai’i’s balance held true all game: junior guard Drew Buggs led the team with 12 points, but three other players scored at least 10.
Buggs also played the role of facilitator on Saturday and played it masterfully. The junior dished out 12 assists against just 2 turnovers, a sterling ratio for any point guard.
The Gauchos, meanwhile, struggled to distribute the ball. The UCSB team combined for 3 assists, their lowest total of the season and just the third time they’ve finished with less than 10 assists in a game this season.
Hawai’i also outrebounded the Gauchos, 33 to 23, on Saturday. Nine of those Rainbow Warrior rebounds were on the offensive glass, compared to just 2 for the Gauchos, giving the hosts a 10-4 advantage in second-chance points.
Sophomore big man Amadou Sow is typically UCSB’s go-to man on the glass, but he was limited to just over 18 minutes by foul trouble. Sow picked up 2 fouls in both halves, which forced Gaucho head coach Joe Pasternack to rely more heavily on the back up Idehen.
Saturday’s loss was two in a row for the Gauchos, who have struggled offensively in Big West play. The struggle hasn’t been consistent from game to game, as UCSB shot reasonably well but turned the ball over 17 times in the team’s loss to Long Beach State last week, complicating efforts to find a panacea for the team.
A panacea might be hard to find, but the Gauchos will need to find some sort of patch as Big West play continues if they want to contend. UCSB hosts CSUN on Wednesday night and then UC Riverside on Saturday, two teams above the Gauchos in the conference standings.