Andre Kelly (2), shown in Monday’s season opener against San Francisco State, led UCSB to a 61-54 victory over Fresno State on Friday in Santa Cruz. (Jeff Liang photo)

SANTA CRUZ — Andre Kelly’s return to the Bay Area proved to be double-double trouble for Fresno State on Friday.

The graduate transfer from Cal scored 16 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead UC Santa Barbara to a come-from-behind, 61-54 basketball victory at the neutral site of Kaiser Permanente Arena.

The 6-foot-9 and 255-pound center, who recorded seven double-doubles at Cal last year, loomed especially large in Friday’s second half. He got 11 of his rebounds — five on the offensive end — in the final 20 minutes.

“We needed every single one of them,” coach Joe Pasternack said. “We really grinded out a win.

“I’m just really proud of our team for how hard they fought and how hard they played.”

UCSB (2-0) shot just 36.1% — 23.5% from three-point range — but it reclaimed 14 of its own misses, with Kelly getting six of them. It out-rebounded Fresno (1-1), 39-29.

“We couldn’t make a shot,” Pasternack said. “It was an absolute disaster shooting the ball. That’s going to happen, so that’s why they say, ‘Rebounding travels … and defense travels.”

The Gauchos, shell-shocked at the start when the Bulldogs made their first six shots, held them to just 36.1% (13-for-36) the rest of the way and forced 16 turnovers while getting seven steals.

UCSB missed seven of its first eight attempts. Two free throws apiece by Kelly and Ajay Mitchell were the Gauchos’ only points as they fell behind 13-4 in the first five minutes.

Miles Norris got their first basket with a dunk, touching off a 17-4 run that put the Gauchos into the lead. He finished with 10 points and five rebounds.

“Our guys really followed the game plan defensively,” Pasternack said. “Fresno State won 23 games last year. They’re a very good Mountain West team.

“We just stayed with it and made it a possession-by-possession game. Outrebounding that team by 10 rebounds is not easy to do.”

Josh Pierre-Louis, making his debut after a preseason ankle injury, scored a put-back and made a three-pointer to reduce UCSB’s deficit to 15-11. Ajare Sanni also returned from injury.

Kelly scored a trio of baskets during a 4½-minute span to help the Gauchos take a 23-19 lead. They never let Fresno back into the lead.

The Bulldogs did catch UCSB at 34-all after back-to-back threes by Anthony Holland and Destin Whitaker. Isaiah Hill led Fresno with 12 points.

But Cole Anderson came off the bench to make a pair of threes in a 90-second span. He made 3-of-5 in the game for nine points while the rest of the Gauchos were 1-for-12 from distance.

“We really, badly needed somebody to come off the bench and score for us,” Pasternack said. “We couldn’t make a shot, but Cole came in and did that.”

Anderson’s first three came on Kelly’s kickout pass. The Gaucho center finished with four assists.

“What he does that’s so great is pass the ball out of the trap,” Pasternack said. “All these teams that want to trap him — we’re really getting a lot of offense out that.”

Fresno got to within one point of the Gauchos on three occasions after that. But Ajay Mitchell, who made just 3-of-14 shots while missing all six of his threes, sank 8-of-8 free throws in the final 6:07 to keep the Bulldogs at bay. He finished with 14 points, four assists and four steals while playing all but one of the 40 minutes.

“As I told him, his shot has improved so much, so what he has to do is just keep shooting,” Pasternack said. “I want him to keep shooting and he’s got to keep shooting.

“But he got four steals, four assists and just one turnover, and that’s how a point guard is measured: assists to turnovers. That, and, ‘Did your team win?’ He did a great, great job of that, and hit the free throws at the end.”

Mitchell also scored a driving scoop shot with 3:34 to go after Fresno had drawn to within 48-47. UCSB out-scored the Bulldogs 13-7 the rest of the way, getting Anderson’s third three plus clutch, two-point jump shots by Calvin Wishart and Norris.

Kelly put an exclamation point to the victory by dunking with 16 seconds to go on Norris’ fast-break pass.

“It’s been a tough deal because Ajare has been out and only practiced a day,” Pasternack said. “Josh has been out about eight weeks and he only had three days of practices. We’re just out of synch right now.

“But the one thing that’s not out of synch, that you can control, is your defense and rebounding. That was huge. We missed so many cheapies right at the rim, so it was going to take an unbelievable defensive and rebounding effort.”

The Gauchos will return to action next Friday with a 6 p.m. PST game at Northern Arizona.

Mark Patton

Mark Patton, Noozhawk Sports Columnist

Noozhawk sports columnist Mark Patton is a longtime local sports writer. Contact him at sports@noozhawk.com. The opinions expressed are his own.