Shorthanded UCSB Battles Utah State Before Falling, 71-64

Sam Beeler (Photo by Tony Mastres)
Sam Beeler (Photo by Tony Mastres)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Minutes before its game against visiting Utah State on Saturday night, UC Santa Barbara leading scorer and rebounder Alan Williams suffered upper-back spasms during warm-ups and was scratched from the starting lineup. The result was a 71-64 Aggie victory, but it didn't come easy.

The Gauchos (2-1) kept it close early and trailed just 21-19 with 8:40 left in the first half. Utah State (3-0) went on an18-6 run to take a 39-25 lead with just over a minute to play.

A lay-up by Sam Beeler off of a beautiful feed from Michael Bryson and a pair of free throws by Zalmico Harmon cut the deficit to 39-29 at by halftime. 

Preston Medlin and Jarred Shaw each had nine first half points to lead the Aggies. Medlin made three of his teams six three-pointers. They were 6-of-12 from three-point territory in the first 20 minutes. 

UCSB kept the momentum going as it opened the second half with an 11-0 run to claim a 40-39 lead with 17:27 left in the game. Kyle Boswell got the run started with a three-pointer and Bryson ended it with a lay-up off of an assist from Boswell. At that point the Gauchos had outscored the Aggies 15-0.

"We changed things up at halftime," Bryson said. "We realized we had to speed things up so we went small and that kind of got us back in the game."

The game was back-and-forth over the next several minutes, but with Utah State leading just 50-46 with just under 12 minutes to play, Spencer Butterfield hit consecutive three-point baskets from straight out to push the advantage back to 56-46 with remaining.

A pair of free throws by Beeler and a lay-up by Boswell got UCSB back within six with just under eight minutes to play. The lead stayed right there until the 3:48 mark when Medlin scored on a driving lay-up and was fouled by Beeler. Medlin, who finished with a team-high 18 points, made the free throw to push the Utah State edge to 66-57.

The Gauchos continued to hang around. A pair of free throws and a lay-up by Beeler narrowed the Aggie advantage to 66-62 with 1:01 left. Beeler finished with 14 points in a career-high 28 minutes.

"I thought Sam was really good at times tonight," head coach Bob Williams said. "He played through some fatigue and that says a lot about him.

Beeler, whose previous career-high in minutes played was 25 on Tuesday night at UNLV, realized he just had to stay on the court on Saturday.

"Without Al, I knew I was going to have to play a lot of minutes," Beeler said. "It just is what it is and I did what I had to do."

After Medlin made one-of-two free throws Bryson scored an acrobatic lay-up to make it 67-64, but four straight free throws by Ben Clifford extended the lead to 71-64, the final score. 

Bryson paced the Gauchos in scoring with 15 points and he added four assists. Boswell added 11. UCSB's point guard tandem were also outstanding. Eric Childress came off the bench for seven points, five assists, four rebounds and two steals. He did not commit a turnover. Harmon had six points and four assists.

Spencer Butterfield added 16 for the Aggies, making 4-of-6 three-point shots. Medlin finished at 4-for-8. As a team, Utah State made 10-of-21 from beyond the three-point arc. 

In addition to Williams, the Gauchos were also playing without forwards John Green and Mitch Brewe. Green is out 3-6 weeks with a foot injury and Brewe is sidelined for another two weeks with a sprained knee.

The Gauchos will be back in action on Thursday, Nov. 21 when they travel to the University of Colorado for a game that will tip-off at 5:00 p.m. (PST) and be aired on the Pac 12 Network. They will return home on Friday, Nov. 29 to host South Dakota State in a 7:00 p.m. game at the Thunderdome. For ticket information, drop by the Ticket Office in the ICA Building on campus, call 805-893-UCSB (8272) or click here.