SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – No. 10 UC Santa Barbara ended up on the wrong side of a wild, see-saw second half in Friday night's Big West Tournament Semifinals, ultimately falling to visiting No. 25 Cal State Northridge by a score of 3-2 behind a hat trick from Sagi Lev-Ari in front of 1,832 fans at Harder Stadium.
The loss snapped an 11-game unbeaten streak for the Gauchos, whose last loss came all the way back on Sep. 27 against Stanford. Their overall record falls to 12-5-3 with the loss, while the Matadors improved to 15-5-1.
It was an extremely physical match between the North Division champion Gauchos and CSUN, who entered as the second seed in the South after trouncing Cal Poly 4-1 in Tuesday's quarterfinal round. A total of 37 fouls were committed in the game, while six cards were handed out.
After a quiet first half saw just two shots go on frame, the action took a dramatic turn in the second half. The second period featured 15 shots, a whopping 21 fouls, and all six cards.
Cal State Northridge managed to open the scoring in the 58th minute. The Matadors' Beto Velasquez was able to find his way into the box, but was steered to the outside by the UCSB defense. Near the endline, Velasquez chipped a cross over the Gauchos' backline and keeper to forward Lev-Ari, who headed in to an empty net for the first of his three goals.
Just like their regular season win over CSUN earlier this season, the Gauchos battled back from a 1-0 deficit to reclaim the lead and go up 2-1. Marshall Cazares picked a good time to score his first career goal, as he redirected a long Ismaila Jome pass with his left foot into the net in the 64th minute.
Less than 10 minutes later, Cazares' play led to another UCSB goal. Moving quickly from right to left at the top of the 18 yard box, a sliding tackle from a CSUN defender caught Cazares in the ankle. The sophomore would have to leave the game after the tackle, but the ensuing freekick was promptly banged home by Goffin Boyoko, who took over the team lead with his eighth goal.
Garcia-Lopez would receive his second yellow card in the 73rd minute, leaving UCSB shorthanded the rest of the match.
The high-powered CSUN offense wasted no time capitalizing on their man advantage. Lev-Ari slotted home a 78th minute penalty kick to equalize, then put the Matadors up for good in the 83rd minute after he headed a ball off the left post and in.
The Gauchos now await their fate as determined by the NCAA selection committee. The 48 team NCAA Tournament bracket will be unveiled on Monday morning at 9 a.m. Entering Friday's game as the No. 8 team in the RPI rankings, UCSB still has a solid chance to receive a first-round bye as one of the top-16 seeds in the tourney.