SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Amadou Sow scored 18 points to lead four players in double-figures and UC Santa Barbara blew open a close game in the second half, defeating visiting Hawai'i, 79-61 on Thursday night.
The win ended the Gauchos (18-8 overall, 7-5 Big) three-game losing streak and moved them into a tie with the Rainbow Warriors (16-10, 7-5) for third-place in the Big West Conference standings.
"This was an important win over us," Sow said. "Losing three straight games can kind of get in your head a little, so we were very focused and ready to play tonight."
After Hawai'i scored the first basket of the game, UCSB turned to Sow for its first two baskets, a lay-up and a slam dunk, that gave his team a 4-2 lead. Sow's buckets kick-started a 17-2 run that put the Gauchos ahead 17-4 and they never trailed again.
"This week, especially on Monday and Tuesday, our guys honored the process," said head coach Joe Pasternack. "I thought our focus tonight showed just how hard these guys worked in practice this week."
JaQuori McLaughlin, who finished with a career-high eight assists and no turnovers, scored or assisted on UCSB's first six baskets. He assisted on each of Sow's deuces, then made a lay-up and three-pointer, then assisted on back-to-back inside baskets by Ami Lakoju.
"Tonight we had 16 assists and nine turnovers," Pasternack said. "We like to have around 15 assists and 10 or fewer turnovers. There are times we have three point guards on the court so we can be a very good ball handling team."
The Rainbow Warriors closed the gap to seven on two occasions during the first half, the last time when Jack Purchase made a free throw line jumper with 9:03 to play, but the Gauchos pushed the advantage back to 30-19 by halftime.
The teams traded baskets over the first few minutes of the second half. When Sow made a pair of free throws at the 16:32 mark, it was still an 11-point UCSB lead at 39-28, but back-to-back three-pointers by Eddie Stansberry pulled Hawai'i within 39-34 with 15:23 to play. Following a pair of Blackmon free throws, Brocke Stepteau hit a jumper to make it a five-point game – 41-36 – for the last time.
A scramble for the ball at the top of the key on the Gauchos' end of the floor resulted in Ramsey losing a shoe but he chased down the ball in the backcourt and then raced back the other way as the shot clock ticked down. Ramsey got the ball to Sow who beat the buzzer with a three-pointer from about 25 feet away above the top of the key.
"He's been telling me he can make floaters and threes like me and he finally did," laughed Ramsey.
Sow's three started a 13-3 run by UCSB that ended with an old school three-point play by Davis with 10:09 remaining in the game making the score 54-39.
Hawai'i pulled within seven twice more, the final time at 57-50 on a jumper by Drew Buggs with 7:08 to play, but another big run by the Gauchos – this one 14-2 – put the game well out of reach, 71-52 with 2:50 to play.
Sow, who also finished with a game-high eight rebounds, was joined in double-figures by Davis who had 14, to go along with seven boards, McLaughlin, who added 11 points to his career-high eight assists, and Ramsey, who had 11 points to go along with a career-high four steals.
As a team, UCSB had a season-high 12 steals. In addition to Ramsey's four, Sow added a career-high three, while McLaughlin and Blackmon had two apiece.
The Gauchos finished the game at 50.0% overall from the field, including 62.5% in the second half. They hit 50.0% despite making just 4-of-16 from three-point range. The Rainbow Warriors shot 47.2% overall after making just 8-of-26 shots in the first half. They hit 63.0% in final 20 minutes.
Hawai'i was led by Zigmars Raimo who had 15 points, while Buggs added 13.
UCSB returns to action on Saturday, Feb. 23 when it hosts Cal State Fullerton in a key Big West Conference matchup. The game will tip-off at 7:00 p.m. in the Thunderdome.