FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. —UC Santa Barbara’s offense crumbled amidst Northern Arizona’s collapsing defense in a 63-54 basketball defeat at the Joseph C. Rolle Activity Center on Friday.
UCSB (2-1) shot just 34.8%, had only four assists, and committed 15 turnovers in its first setback of the season.
“Santa Barbara is picked to win the Big West, and they’re a heck of a basketball team,” Lumberjack coach Shane Burcar said. “It went back and forth, and then we spread the lead a little bit and maintained it … I liked the toughness of our guys.”
UCSB’s offense featured little passing and degraded mostly into the one-on-one drives of guards Ajay Mitchell and Josh Pierre-Louis.
“We’re not executing offensively very well,” Gaucho coach Joe Pasternack said.
“We have some new guys coming back into the lineup,” he added, referring to the return of Pierre-Louis and Ajare Sanni from injuries, “and I have to do a better job of getting us into our offense.”
Mitchell finished with a team-high 18 points. He made only 5-of-15 shots, however —1-of-4 from the three-point line — and had just two assists with four turnovers. He was 7-for-7 from the free-throw line.
Pierre-Louis had no assists to go with his 17 points. He made 7-of-8 free throws. UCSB was 21-for-24 from the line as a team.
“They were doing a great job of collapsing, and I give credit to them,” Pasternack said. “It’s not easy to win on the road in college basketball anywhere.
“I thought this was a good team — better than their record (now 2-3) — and they played really, really hard. Credit to them. They had a great game plan to beat us.”
It was a rough night for UCSB center Andre Kelly. The graduate transfer from Cal got only two shots in 28 minutes and missed both. His frustration boiled over when he was called for a technical foul at the end of the first half. He finished with four points and no offensive rebounds, although he did lead the Gauchos with seven rebounds overall.
“They trapped him every single time he got the ball,” Pasternack said. “He threw it out — he’s a great post passer — and we have to be able to convert better and make better adjustments when they play that way.”
UCSB, which came into the game shooting just 32.5% from three, shot an even worse 3-of-17 from distance on Friday. Cole Anderson, who had made 8-of-15 threes in the Gauchos’ first two games, missed the only attempt he got while going scoreless in 18 minutes of playing time.
“I think we’re a good shooting team,” Pasternack said. “Miles Norris can shoot, Ajare can shoot, Cole Anderson can shoot, Ajay can shoot.
“We are in game three, and we have to just keep grinding and honoring our process and not panic.”
The Gauchos missed a pair of threes while coming up empty in their first six possessions. NAU led 5-0 after the first three minutes.
Norris responded with a dunk and a three to ignite a 9-2 run for UCSB. He finished with 11 points and five rebounds.
A scoring drive by Mitchell put the Gauchos ahead 9-7.
They led again at 19-18 on a free throw by Pierre-Louis but then went scoreless for the remaining 4½ minutes of the first half. The Lumberjackets used an 8-0 run to take a 26-19 lead into the break, with Keith Haymon hitting a three with two seconds on the clock.
The Gauchos scored the first eight points of the second half, taking their final lead of 27-26 on a layup by Pierre-Louis. But their offense sank into another funk with three misses and two more turnovers in a scoreless drought of four minutes.
“I don’t think we did a good job of finishing at the rim,” Pasternack said. “I felt we had some open shots and didn’t shoot the ball very well.”
The Lumberjacks scored 12 unanswered points — two on free throws after another technical foul was called on the Gaucho bench. They pulled out to a 38-27 lead on Xavier Fuller’s runner with 11:05 left. They made 9-of-13 shots after missing their first seven attempts of the second half.
They finished with shooting percentages of .414 overall and .273 from three, but Jalen Cone gave them enough offense with 17 points.
Liam Lloyd contributed a runner and a three on back-to-back possessions to give NAU its biggest lead of 47-34 with 6:44 to go.
UCSB made 15-of-16 free throws the rest of the way but got no closer than seven points.
The Gauchos will return home to play host to the Santa Barbara Beach Classic with games Monday at 6 p.m. against Hampton and Wednesday at 7 p.m. against North Alabama.
“The nonconference is all about preparing us and finding out what our warts are so we can improve for conference play,” Pasternack said. “I felt we found out a lot tonight and we have to make some adjustments and get to know this team.
“We have to make some adjustments and get ready to go here on Monday.”