Gauchos Storm to Big Lead, Hold Off UC Davis in Showdown for 1st-Place in Big West, 90-81

Jarriesse Blackmon (Photo by David Hague)
Jarriesse Blackmon (Photo by David Hague)

DAVIS, Calif. – UC Santa Barbara jumped out to a big lead in the first half and then withstood a desperate UC Davis rally to win a showdown between the top two teams in the Big West Conference on Thursday night, 90-81. 

Thw win ended Davis's 19-game home winning streak, the third longest in the nation.

UCSB (19-5 overall, 8-2 in Big West), which won for the seventh time in a row, sizzled in the first half. After the Aggies (16-8, 7-3) scored the first basket of the game the Gauchos went on a 35-13 rampage to take a 35-15 lead with 8:29 left. They finished the first 20 minutes with a 49-37 advantage, making 18-of-32 field goals overall, 56.3%, including 8-for-13 from three-point range. 

"We were really good offensively in the first half," said head coach Joe Pasternack. "As a team we kept the ball moving, created a lot of good looks from distance and we made our shots." 

The teams traded baskets for much of the second half. It seemed as though every time Davis made a shot, UCSB matched it. After a three-pointer by Rogers Printup cut the lead to 72-57, Max Heidegger responded with a three to push it back to 75-57. 

T.J. Shorts II, who finished with a game-high 28 points, scored on one of his many driving, left-handed lay-ups to make the score 75-59 with 8:32 to play. But again, the Gauchos responded with a lay-up by Jarriesse Blackmon and it was 77-59 at the 8:08 mark. 

The Aggies then rallied with an 11-0 run and when Siler Schneider made a pair of free throws with 5:25 to play, the lead was down to 77-70. A three-point play by Leland King II pushed the lead back to double-figures, but another three from distance by Printup made it 80-73 with 4:44 left. 

"I thought we showed a lot of resilience tonight," Pasternack said. "We didn't do everything right down the stretch, but in the end we did enough to win a big game." 

Davis carved the lead to five twice, but the Gauchos made their last nine free throws to keep their distance from the home team. Blackmon made both of his field goals and 4-of-5 free throws, all down the stretch. His biggest basket came with 2:23 remaining when he scored on a put-back and then made the free throw after he was fouled. 

"I have a lot of confidence in my abilities," Blackmon said. "Without Jalen (Canty) I've had the opportunity to play and I am excited that I've been able to contribute."

Canty, the team's starter at the five-spot, missed his second straight game. A week ago, he was suspended for a violation of team rules. He was joined on the sidelines by one of the Aggies top players, Chima Moeneke, who is also suspended for a violation of team rules. 

With the lead back down to five, Blackmon drained two more free throws with 46 seconds to play, making it 86-79. After Shorts made a pair of free throws, Heidegger hit four over the game's final 37 seconds for the final margin, 90-81. Blackmon also came through with a key blocked shot of a three-point attempt by Joe Mooney with 32 seconds to play. 

"Jarriesse was big for us tonight," Pasternack said. "His free throws were big and he made a great play on that blocked shot." 

Blackmon finished with eight points, three rebounds and a pair of blocked shots in 20 minutes. The Gauchos were led by King who had 19 points and a game-high 15 rebounds. Gabe Vincent hit 7-of-9 shots overall, including 4-for-5 from three-point range, to score 18. Heidegger also added 18, including a perfect 3-for-3 from three-point territory. Marcus Jackson scored 15 points, all in the decisive first half.

As a team, the Gauchos made 55.6% of their shots overall and they were 11-of-20 from three-point distance, 55.0%. They also won the rebound battle, 33-26.

Davis shot 48.2% overall, but heated up in the second half and made 53.8%. For the game, the Aggies were 10-of-19 from three-point range, 52.6%. In addition to his 28 points, Shorts had eight assists. Schneider made all three of fhis three-point attempts and added 24 points. Michael Onyebalu made all four of his three-point attempts and had 12 points. 

The win moves Santa Barbara to 8-2 and into first-place all alone, one game ahead of Davis and UC Irvine who are each 7-3. Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton are each 6-4, two games back. 

UCSB will be off Saturday and return to Big West Conference play on Thursday, Feb. 15 when it travels to Long Beach State for a 7:00 p.m. game at the Walter Pyramid. The Gauchos will look to go 12-0 at home when they host UC Davis in a 2:00 p.m. game at the Thunderdome on Saturday, Feb. 17.