Gauchos Recover From Icy First Half to Top UC Riverside, 60-52

Jaime Serna (Photo by Vince Agapito)
Jaime Serna (Photo by Vince Agapito)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif.Jaimé Serna had 19 points and nine rebounds, James Nunnally scored 15 points and UC Santa Barbara overcame a dismal first half shooting performance to rally for a 60-52 win over visiting UC Riverside in a Big West game Saturday night.

The Gauchos (13-8 overall, 8-3 in the Big West), who moved back into a tie for second-place in the conference, made just 7-of-29 shots in the first half, 24.1%.  The Highlanders (11-14 overall, 5-7 in the Big West) weren't much better, making 36.4%, but a 15-foot jumper by Robert Smith as the buzzer sounded, put them ahead at the break, 30-23.

"It's out of the ordinary for us to shoot like we did in the first half," said UCSB head coach Bob Williams.  "We just couldn't get anything to fall.  I think we're a pretty good three-point shooting team and miss all nine in the first half, that's tough."

In fact, the teams combined to go 1-for-19 from outside the three-point arc in the first 20 minutes.  Riverside finished the game at 1-for-13 while the Gauchos were 3-for-15.

In the opening minutes of the second half, UCSB missed two more field goal attempts and committed a turnover while the Highlanders' Elliott Berry scored four of his 11 points, two on a short jumper and two more on free throws, to give his team its biggest lead of the game, 34-23. 

That's when the Gauchos started to rally back, scoring seven straight points, three of which came on a three-pointer by Nunnally.  It was the first three-pointer for Santa and the lead was shaved to 34-30 with 14:29 to play.

Kyle Boswell, who finished with a career-high six assists, made UCSB's second three-point basket of the game with 9:18 remaining to narrow the lead to 38-37.  It was the closest the Gauchos had been since the first basket of the game Riverside a two-point lead, but Phil Martin, who finished with a team-high 17, responded with a driving lay-up to push the score back to 40-37.

After Alan Williams scored on a put-back and UCSB got a defensive stop, Nunnally made his second three-point basket of game to give the Gauchos their first lead of the game, 42-40 with 7:11 left. 

The lead was short-lived as Berry sliced into the key and scored on a lay-up to tie the game at 42.  Orlando Johnson scored the next four points and Serna made a pair of free throws to give UCSB a 48-42 lead with 4:56 to play.  Back-to-back baskets by Martin cut the Gauchos' edge to 48-46, but that was as close as the score would get the rest of the way.

"We didn't make many threes tonight," Williams said, "but I thought the ones we did make were momentum-changers."

Nunnally's 15 points moved him past the 1,500-career point mark.  He is the sixth player in school history to surpass the plateau and he now has 1,506.

UCSB made 13-of-28 shots in the second half, 46.4%, to finish at 35.1% for the game.  The Gauchos also had their second lowest turnover total of the season with eight.  Riverside finished at 38.2% overall and were outscored in the second half, 37-22.

Santa Barbara will go on the road for its next three games before returning home for its final three regular season games.  The Gauchos play a 7:00 p.m. game at UC Irvine on Wednesday, Feb. 15.  On Saturday, Feb. 18, they travel to Logan, Utah to take-on former Big West rival Utah State in a Sears BracketBuster game.  Tipoff is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. (PST).