Gauchos Battle Back But Can't Overcome Idaho in First Round of CIT, 86-83

James Nunnally (Photo by Vince Agapito)
James Nunnally (Photo by Vince Agapito)

MOSCOW, Idaho – UC Santa Barbara's season ended on Wednesday night, but the Gauchos didn't go down without a fight as they came from 17 points behind to get within one before losing 86-83 at Idaho in the first round of the Tournament.

UCSB led 11-10 on a layup by Jaimé Serna with 14:41 to play in the first half, but the Vandals took control of the offensive glass and the game from there, outscoring the Gauchos 25-7 to take a decisive 35-18 lead with 4:42 to play in the half.

"We weren't ready to play in the first half and it showed," Said head coach Bob Williams.  "We just didn't fight for anything in those first 15 minutes and they (Idaho) got too many easy baskets.  Give them credit, they went hard to the glass and took advantage of it." 

UCSB closed the half on a 12-8 run to cut the lead to 43-30 at the break.  The Vandals had eight offensive rebounds and had a 16-4 edge in second chance points in the first 20 minutes.

But the Gauchos weren't done.  Led by seniors James Nunnally, Jaimé Serna and Orlando Johnson, they fought back.  After the Vandals scored the first three points of the second half, UCSB used a 6-0 run to pull within 10, 46-36, but Idaho stretched the lead back to 55-40 with 15:47 remaining.  An 8-2 Gaucho run, capped by a Kyle Boswell three-point basket, got the lead under 10, 57-48, for the first time since early in the game.

"I thought we competed in the second half," Williams said.  "Our guys kind of decided that they didn't want to go down quietly."

The single-digit margin was short-lived as Deremy Geiger, who finished with a team-high 22 points, made a three-pointer and then was fouled on another, draining all three free throws, to push the Idaho advantage back to 63-48 with 13:14 to play.

Again, Santa Barbara battled back, going on a 6-0 run to get the margin back down to 64-55.  But the Vandals Kyle Barone, who had 20 points, scored on consecutive layups to make it 68-55.

Still trailing 70-60 with 8:58 remaining, Nunnally scored two of his game-high 25 points on a free throw line jumper to cut the deficit to single-digits for good. 

UCSB got within one on three occasions in the final minutes, the last time coming on a layup by Orlando Johnson with 34 seconds left, after which, the Gauchos called timeout.

Following the timeout, Sana Barbara tried for a steal in the backcourt, but Idaho was able to get the ball into the frontcourt where Stephen Madison was fouled.  Madison made both free throws to give his team an 83-80 lead with 21 seconds to play.

A long three-point attempt by Nunnally rimmed in-and-out with just over 10 seconds to play.  The shot would have tied the score, but Mike McChristian got the rebound for the Vandals and quickly got the ball to Landon Tatum, who made two free throws after he was fouled by Boswell with six seconds left, giving Idaho an insurmountable 85-80 lead.  T.J. Taylor made a three-pointer for UCSB and Geiger a free throw for Idaho for the 86-83 final score.

The Gauhos complete their season with a 20-11 overall record.  The CIT appearance marked the third postseason appearance in as many seasons and the fourth in the last five.  The Vandals improved to 19-13.

Nunnally's 25 points gave him 1,685 in his career, fourth all-time and just two behind Carrick DeHart for third on the list.  Johnson, one of the most decorated players in school history, had 19 points and ends his career with 1,825, the most ever.  Serna had 17 points and 12 rebounds for his third double-double of the year.  The 12 rebounds tied his career-high.  The trio of seniors combined for 42 of UCSB's 53 points in the second half. 

"Those five seniors (Greg Somogyi and Christian Peterson in addition to the other three) have had a lot of success for us," Williams said.  "They took us to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, had 20 win seasons and really helped establish this program.  I'll miss them, but I look forward to the future because we have a lot of good young players." 

The Gauchos will return, among others, Alan Williams and Taylor, who were starters since the beginning of Big West play.  They will also return several others and will add a litany of freshmen, including two who redshirted the 2011-12 season (John Green and Taran Brown) and four true freshmen.