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Gauchos Put It All Together, Roll Over Pepperdine, 68-57

UCSB improves to 8-1 with sixth-straight victory.

With an aggressive press and rich freshman talent, Pepperdine dominated the first three minutes of action Wednesday night at the Thunderdome, taking a 7-0 lead.

But then came the rest of the game.

Alex Harris, the scorer, started scoring, hitting three artful three-pointers. Chris Devine, the warrior, started winning battle after battle inside against the taller but softer Pepperdine big men. And the team defense that UCSB head coach Bob Williams prides his team on was absolutely suffocating.

The result: A 68-57 win over the Waves, the Gauchos’ sixth-straight victory.

“We played really, really well for the last 17 minutes of the first half and the first 14 minutes of the second,” reflected Williams. “We were absolutely on our game.”

First-half performance has been a bit shaky for the Gauchos lately, but Wednesday it was textbook. Hitting 83 percent of their three-point attempts and forcing 11 turnovers fueled UCSB to a 32-19 lead at the break. D.J. Posley drilled a three, James Powell nailed another, and Harris was lights out, despite being, “under the weather.”

Ivan Elliot, one of the Gauchos’ senior leaders, called it “the best first half we’ve played.” On defense, “our rotation was nice, very aggressive and consistent. It was the best we’ve played all season.”

That rotation led to constant harassment and double teams on Pepperdine’s ball handlers, and 12 first-half UCSB points off of turnovers. And the fact that Elliot is fired up about the team’s defense is telling. The players are united in their commitment to the "bust your gut defensive" pressure that has been a solid strength for the Gauchos during this six-game win streak. Teams may weather the storm for a while but eventually they tire and the Gauchos win the battle of turnovers.

The second half was more of the same, with 14 more turnovers for Pepperdine. Harris remained hot and finished with 22, while Powell (13) and Elliot (eight) both took turns scoring on powerful drives and bombs from outside. Devine had a superb all around game with 10 points, a team high seven rebounds and three steals. Paul Roemer contributed four points and 17 quality minutes at guard, and Posley added seven points and three steals of his own.

A happy Williams noted that "the streak we’re in is pretty darn good.” With six wins in a row, and an 8-1 season record, there is indeed reason for joy. But the tests of league play lie ahead. And Harris, the wise senior, knows early success can lead to complacency. “My goal is to finish strong,” he said.

If Wednesday’s performance was any indication, the Gauchos are on their way.

UCSB plays Utah Valley State at 7 p.m. Friday at the Thunderdome.

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