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Harris Leads UCSB into First-Place Tie

Gauchos victorious in Northridge, can clinch top seed in tournament with win Saturday at Long Beach State.

Alex Harris scored 25 points and Ivan Elliott added 16, as UCSB held off Cal State Northridge to record an important road win Thursday night. The 77-66 victory moves the Gauchos (22-7 overall, 11-4 in the Big West Conference) into a first-place tie with the Matadors (19-9, 11-4) with one game to play. It also gives them an opportunity to clinch the No. 1 seed in next week’s league tournament with a win Saturday at Long Beach State.

UCSB used a 14-2 rally midway through the first half to take a decisive, 27-15 lead over Northridge with 8:52 remaining. The lead peaked at 16 when James Powell made a layup with seven minutes left. The Matadors pulled to within seven, 43-36, at the half, but the Gauchos scored the first seven points of the second half to extend the lead back to 14, 50-36, with 16:29 left in the game.

“We finished the first half a little sloppy and they (Northridge) were able to get back into it,” UCSB head coach Bob Williams said. “I thought the way we came out in the second half, offensively and defensively, was pivotal.”

Northridge scored six in a row to pull to within eight, 50-42, but another 7-0 Gauchos run made it 57-42 with 11:40 left. The lead remained in double-digits until Josh Jenkins made a 15-foot jumper at the 5:23 mark, pulling his team to within eight, 65-57.

Northridge kept chipping away, but could get no closer than 71-66 on a Deon Tresvant free throw with 1:31 on the clock. The Gauchos sealed the game at the free-throw line and on the defensive end. Powell was intentionally fouled and made a pair of free throws with 1:22 to play. After UCSB forced a Matadors turnover, Paul Roemer was fouled. He made one out of two to make it an eight-point game with 1:09 remaining.

On the next Northridge possession, Roemer stripped Tresvant of the ball and was fouled. He missed both free throws, but Harris stole the ball from Tremaine Townsend with 49 seconds left. Harris was intentionally fouled and converted both free throws to give UCSB an insurmountable 76-66 lead.

“This was really big for us,” Harris said. “After we got off to a slow start early in conference, we never hung our heads. We believed that if we kept working hard, we would have an opportunity to get back into the race, and now we are. As a team, we just have to realize how important Saturday’s game is and play with as much focus as we did tonight.“

UCSB still needs a win at Long Beach State on Saturday to clinch the top seed and a bye into the semifinals.

The win was the Gauchos’ sixth consecutive on the road in league play, its eighth in the last nine Big West games. Their 22 wins ties the school record for wins in a season, a mark set in 1987-88.

Harris added a team-high seven rebounds, three steals and a pair of assists to his 25 points. Powell and Chris Devine joined Harris and Elliott in double-figures for the Gauchos with 12 and 10, respectively. Nedim Pajevic played one of his best games of the season with seven points and five rebounds in 20 minutes. Tresvant, who scored 31 in Northridge’s earlier victory over UCSB, had 25 on Thursday night.

UCSB shot a decent 46.8 percent and held the Matadors to just 40.0 percent. The Gauchos also won the rebounding battle, 34-31, and forced 18 turnovers while committing just 15.

Saturday’s regular season finale at Long Beach will tip off at 4 p.m.

Bill Mahoney is UCSB‘s assistant athletics director.

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