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Saturday, December 15 , 2018, 7:50 pm | Fair 53º

Sports: A Noozhawk Partnership with Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table, The Lab, and American Riviera Bank
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Thunderdome Rumbles to Life as UCSB Downs UNLV, 63-60

Gauchos ignite in 2nd half to nip the Rebels on Powell's last-second bolt.

UCSB’s Thunderdome has seen quiet weather lately, but Tuesday night it came to sonic life as James Powell‘s last-second three-pointer ripped the net, giving the Gauchos a 63-60 victory over historic rival UNLV.

A sea of students clad in yellow poured from the stands at game’s end, overwhelming the security, mobbing the players and giving coach Bob Williams  a scene to cherish.

"I loved it," he beamed. "It was the best thing I’ve seen here in 10 years."

It was also one of the sweetest comeback wins.

The first half for UCSB was a sad collection of bricks, airballs and turnovers, that featured 20.7 percent shooting from the floor, and ended with 5½ scoreless minutes. After a 13-13 tie, the Gauchos could only post one bucket in the last 11 minutes of the half. UCSB’s trademark aggressive defense was not so, and all the Gaucho guns were misfiring badly.

But UNLV was cold as well, and took only a 10-point lead, 26-16, into the locker room.

After the break, the thunder started building — decibel by decibel. The students turned up the volume, the players their energy, and the result was deafening.

"The second half was the best we’ve played as a team all season," noted Powell, "and at the end, I’ve never had an adrenaline rush like that in my life."

Powell is affectionately called "Big Shot James" by teammates, and his three-pointer from the top of the key with .4 seconds on the clock will certainly perpetuate that moniker. It was a fitting climax to a half in which UCSB hit 10 for 13 from three-point range. All the long-distance guns were blazing, notably Alex Harris  for two, Chris Devine  for one, Justin Joyner  for two big ones, and Powell for five, including the finale. That’s 76.9 percet from deep, and that’s how comebacks happen.

That and defense.

"On the bench the guys were talking defense," smiled Williams. "That’s when you know we’ve got it going."

And they did — contesting shots, double-teaming and forcing turnovers with an energy that was lacking earlier when the offense had been flat. "The adrenaline of making shots and the adrenaline of the crowd carried them through," added Williams.

It also carried UCSB to its sixth win in seven games this season, and gave the crowd of 3,438 a taste of some of that old-time mojo that used to rock the dome.

At the buzzer, a golden swarm of Gaucho Locos were a storm surge on the court — the thunder was rolling and it was music to Gaucho ears.

Listen for more when the Gauchos travel to Loyola Marymount for a 7:05 p.m.tip-off Saturday. We may be able to hear it all the way up here.

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