In a historic season for the Gauchos, they ultimately ran out of fuel in the second half of their March Madness matchup, taking a 74-56 loss to the Baylor Bears in the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
The Gauchos came out competing in the first half, taking a one-point lead going into the break. UC Santa Barbara came out swinging the rock and trying to hold the scoring of guards Adam Flager, Keyonte George and LJ Cryer.
Five minutes into the game the Gauchos seemed to have the momentum following an emphatic slam dunk by junior center Evans Kipruto.
Just past the 10-minute mark in the first half, the Bears put up their biggest lead of the half, going up 21-13 following a Flager three-pointer.
The Gauchos responded to the run with a hot stretch of their own. Following back-to-back two-point buckets from sophomore guard Cole Anderson, the Gauchos regained a 26-22 lead.
After an exchange of buckets back and forth, the Gauchos took the lead heading into the break, by a score of 36-33. In a game against the 2021 NCAA champions, the Gauchos were the better team in the first half.
The Gauchos’ first-half lead disappeared in a hurry after halftime, with the Bears’ defense ramping up the intensity. Following a Cryer three-pointer with 16:39 remaining in the half, the Bears would not give up the lead for the rest of the game. Sophomore guard Ajay Mitchell would draw a foul at the 9:11 mark and split one of two free throws to cut the Bears’ lead to seven.
“It’s always great playing against a good guard, especially a team like Baylor,” said Mitchell. “Just happy to have that experience. We saw in the first half we were right there. Second half they picked up the pressure. Now — just about us. We came here, focused on ourselves and how we’re going to play, and that’s how we ended it.”
Once again, the Bears prevailed, going on a 15-4 run to end the game, with the final score in favor of the Bears, 74-56.
“They started trapping me on ball screens,” said Mitchell. “We knew it before the game. So our game plan was to move the ball and find open men. And they did a good job in defense, especially in the second half, we only scored 20.”
Mitchell finished with 13 points on 5/12 shooting and four assists, while senior forward Miles Norris led UCSB with 15 points and four rebounds in his final game with the Gauchos. The Bears were led by Flagler and Cryer who had 18 and 15 points respectively.
“I’m really going to miss [playing at UCSB] a lot,” said Norris. “I love all my teammates. So that’s the main thing for me is just the experience doing it with the guys I love.”
With the loss, the UCSB men’s basketball team’s season came to an end. However, the season was overall successful as the team broke the program record for most wins in a season.
“What I told the guys after the game is there’s nothing to hang your heads on,” said Joe Pasternack, the Gaucho’s coach. “We had a great first half. We ran out of steam in the second half. But they’re going to be connected, we’re all going to be connected for life because they hung two championship banners, a regular season and a conference tournament championship, broke the record all-time wins by four games. Really hard to do in college basketball. And we’ll all be connected forever with that record.”
In the offseason, the Gauchos will look to regroup and find players to fill the roles of outgoing players such as Norris and graduate forward Andre Kelly.
“I’m recruiting tonight,” said Pasternack after the game.
Ever since Pasternack took over as head coach for the men’s basketball team at UCSB, the Gauchos have been one of the top teams in the Big West with two Big West Championships and a 132-53 record.
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