IRVINE, Calif. – UC Irvine raced out to an 11-0 lead and never looked back in an 83-70 win over visiting UC Santa Barbara on Saturday night.
The Anteaters (22-5 overall, 10-1 Big West), who won for the eighth straight time, led the Gauchos (17-8, 6-5) by as many as 21 points in the first half. UCSB battled back to within 67-59 on a pair of Amadou Sow free throws with 3:44 to play, but could get no closer.
"You don't want to lose a game like this, but I thought tonight might actually have been a turning point for us," said head coach Joe Pasternack. "It would have been easy to stop playing when we were behind 30-10, but we didn't. I thought we played with a ton of heart over the last 25 minutes or so. I'm proud of our guys for that."
Irvine experienced its biggest lead of 21 twice in the first half, the final time at 36-15 on a three-pointer by Max Hazzard with 5:15 left in the first half.
Max Heidegger, who helped lead Santa Barbara's comeback efforts, finished with 17 points after scoring just two in the first half. Sow finished with 12 points, while Devearl Ramsey made a pair of late threes to finish with 11, and Ar'mond Davis added 10. Jay Nagle also chipped in eight points.
For the third game in a row, the Gauchos struggled with their shooting, particularly in the first half when they made 10-of-26 overall, 38.5%, and 2-for-8 from outside the three-point arc, 25.0%. They improved enough in the second half to finish at 40.7% for the game.
Irvine shot 48.3% overall, but hit 51.5% during the all-important first half. The Anteaters also outrebounded UCSB, 41-31. They were led by Evan Leonard who scored 23 points. Jonathan Galloway, the two-time defending Big West Defensive Player of the Year, had 14 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots.
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UCSB will return home on Thursday, Feb. 21 to host the University of Hawai'i in a game that will begin at 8:00 p.m. to accommodate ESPNU.