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Monday, November 19 , 2018, 12:22 am | Fog/Mist 49º

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Pacific Storm Sinks Gauchos, 71-58

UCSB slips to 3-3 in Big West Conference as title hopes dim.

Despite the rain outside, UCSB suffered a severe scoring drought against Pacific on Thursday night at the Thunderdome, with only 17 points in the first half, and none at all for the last six minutes of the period. A late flurry of three-pointers, and an attempted comeback, came up dry and UCSB lost, 71-58.

Pacific, now 5-1 in Big West Conference play and 14-5 overall, stretched a nine-point halftime lead to 23 in the second half, behind Chad Troyner’s career-high 27 points, and then coasted home for the impressive road win.

UCSB (14-5, 3-3) shot only 24 percent from the floor in the first half, and 32 percent for the game. The Gauchos’ last game, against Cal Poly, featured 24 percent first-half shooting as well, but productivity from behind the arc and at the line atoned, and better second-half shots led to a convincing 15-point victory.

There was no such redemption Thursday against an aggressive, well-prepared Tigers team that shot 59 percent from the floor and easily handled the Gauchos defense that had stifled so many opponents during UCSB’s best start in 19 years.

Pacific’s bench came up big throughout the game with Casey Niemeyer hitting all four of his shots, and Bryan LeDuc going four for five, both players ending up with nine points. On Niemeyer’s only three-point attempt, the ball clanked off the heel of the rim, went 10 feet straight up, hung in the air, and fell directly through the net to turn back one Gaucho surge.

James Powell, who had scored 20 in each of the Gauchos’ last two games, lamented the impact of the strange shot.

“When stuff like that happens, it’s tough," he said. "It’s a momentum play.” And momentum proved illusive for UCSB all night.

“We came out strong on defense for the first 14 minutes,” UCSB head coach Bob Williams said, “but we couldn’t sustain it. We let the frustration with the officials, and of not hitting shots affect us, and we lost our intensity.”

Williams noted that Pacific stayed strong through the full 35 seconds of each possession, while the Gauchos would falter.

“I can’t tell you how many times they scored in the last 10 seconds of the shot clock,” he said. “They just kept the pressure on us until we’d break down, and they’d kick it out for a good look, or hit someone open inside.”

Alex Harris, who hit 31 against Cal Poly, was hit hard with the flu this week and has practiced little. He still scored a team-high 15 points, and was six for six from the line, but was not his three-point self, sinking just one of seven shots.

Chris Devine (14) and Powell (13) gave Harris some scoring help, but many of those points came too late to close the big gap in the late minutes.

Ivan Elliott (eight points) drew first blood for the Gauchos, and hit two threes, but lamented the team’s general poor shooting.

“We had open shots, good shots, but they just weren’t falling," he said. "We’ll have nights like that.”

UCSB can’t afford too many more nights like Thursday. At 3-3 now in conference play, its hoped-for league title, and the resultant byes in the Big West Tournament, are slipping away.

“The guys are down right now,” said Williams, “and they should be. They should be depressed, and they should be frustrated. We’ve put ourselves in a hole, being 3-3, and we’ve got no alternative but to fight back. And I’m confident that that’s just what we’ll do.”

That next fight will be against UC Davis at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Thunderdome, as the Gauchos try to get back on the track that had them rated as high as sixth in the College Insider Mid-Major poll. The previous ratings and impressive win streaks offer little consolation after Thursday’s bitter loss, and only a win can sweeten the flavor of the future.

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