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Gauchos Again Finish Strong in 63-56 Win Over LMU

UCSB wins 5th straight to continue rise in Mid-Major Poll.

Forgettable first halves have become a habit for UCSB’s mens basketball team, but so have fabulous finishes. Again Saturday night, the Gauchos cleaned up their second-half act, turned up the defensive pressure, and nailed freethrows to go home happy … and 7-1 on the season, after beating Loyola Marymount, 63-56.

The Gauchos led 23-21 at the midpoint, thanks to a last-second Beau Gibb tip-in, but three of their top scorers had been largely silent. Alex Harris, Chris Devine and Ivan Elliot had combined for only 10 points at the half. By game’s end they’d produced 44, roaring back to take control, but that early chill was very familiar. Last game, UCSB had only 16 total at the half, but bounced back for 63 at the final buzzer to nip UNLV.

It’s a dangerous comeback game the Gauchos are playing, and it’s of concern to head coach Bob Williams.

“We have consistently not been able to come out strong on offense," he said. "In the first half we were selfish, not sharing the ball or helping make plays for each other.”

After the break, “six post entries (where the pass or penetration goes inside and then kicks back out) led to six consecutive buckets.” That’s the offensive mode Williams hopes to employ for a full 40 minutes in the future.

Fortunately, UCSB’s defense was clicking all night, forcing 15 first-half LMU turnovers to compensate for the 26 percent Gaucho shooting from the floor. Again it was tenacious defense that characterized the Gauchos’ work ethic and wore down an opponent. The 24 Loyola turnovers on the night led to 22 UCSB points and a slim-though-consistent second-half lead.

Another consistent comfort, free-throw shooting, fortified the Gauchos’ lead in the second half, as UCSB matched its 79 percent season average with 15 of 19 from the line. James Powell, who had missed two big ones in the last minute against UNLV, stepped up Saturday, with 25 seconds left and a tenuous 60-56 lead, and drilled two. “Big Shot James” ended up with 11 points on the night, with Harris adding 21, Devine 13 and Elliot 10.

Loyola’s Shawn Deadwiler led all scorers with 23, including five three-pointers, but he also led in turnovers with eight — too many for a big time guard, and a wound the Lions need to heal if the young team is to redirect its 2-6 season.

Prior to the game, the Gauchos had ascended to 18th nationally in the Mid-Major Poll, and this win will likely move them up a few notches. Performing under pressure and eking out wins is great for fans and the media, but it’s a slippery slope to climb nightly. Wednesday at the Thunderdome, UCSB takes on Pepperdine at 7 p.m., to see if they can put two halves together and make life a whole lot easier.

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