The UC Santa Barbara men’s basketball team went on the road on Feb. 22 to face the top team in the Big West Conference, UC Irvine. After a dominant first half from the Anteaters, their lead was too large of a gap for the Gauchos as UC Irvine took the 81-69 win.


After beating the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Feb 17, UCSB looked to get a winning streak going as they lost their previous three matchups, one being UCI at home. 

The Gauchos won the tip and struck first as junior guard Cole Anderson hit a 3-pointer to get the Gauchos going early. Both teams went point-for-point, as the score was tied at various points in the half. 

In the 11th minute of the half, the Anteaters took the lead and started to build on it. After two unanswered jump shots from UCI, the Anteaters were in the lead 20-17.

UCSB looked to cut down the lead, but UCI took advantage of some missed jump shots from the Gauchos as they established a 9-point lead with 6 minutes left. The Anteaters continued their offensive push as their lead grew to as much as 14 points with a score of 41-27. 

As the first half was closing out, the Gauchos tried to chip away at the lead, but nothing fell for UCSB as UCI kept taking advantage of their misses, growing the lead to 17 points and heading into the locker room with a score of 46-29.

Coming out for the second half, the Gauchos didn’t get off to the start they wanted as UCI continued putting on an offensive clinic, extending their lead to 22 points. 

As it felt as if all hope was lost for UCSB, freshman guard Jason Fontenet II scored 9 unanswered points for the Gauchos. Senior guard Ajay Mitchell joined in on the fun as he knocked down both free throws and came back down the court after a missed jump shot to make a 3-pointer. After 8 minutes of play, the Gauchos found themselves down 9, scoring 56-47 in favor of the Anteaters.

UCI followed Mitchell’s 3-pointer with a 3 of their own, taking back their double-digit lead. The Anteaters looked to keep the Gauchos out of the game by maintaining their strong lead.

The Gauchos cut the lead down to as much as 6 points as Mitchell hit a 3-pointer to make it 75-69 with 47 seconds left. That’s all the Gauchos scored in the game’s closing seconds as UCI swept the Gauchos in conference play.

Fontenet tied his career high in points by scoring 10 points off 4 from 10 shooting and recording a career-high 4 steals. 

With the loss, the Gauchos fell to 8th place in the Big West Conference standings. This is the lowest UCSB has ever been since the 2016-2017 season, where they finished in 9th place.  

The Gauchos are set for a week-long break before they head back to the Thunderdome for what promises to be an electrifying matchup in the Blue-Green rivalry. UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo are slated to go head-to-head on Thursday, Feb. 29, with tip-off at 7 p.m. For those unable to attend in person, the game will be broadcast live on ESPN+.

A version of this article appeared on p. 13 of the Feb. 29, 2024, print edition of the Daily Nexus.