Gauchos improve record to 6-2 with first true road victory
MALIBU — UC Santa Barbara combined the fire of Josh Pierre-Louis and the ice of Ajay Mitchell to pull out a 67-64, overtime basketball victory at Pepperdine on Saturday.
Pierre-Louis’ fiery defense and Mitchell’s clutch scoring during the extra period helped the Gauchos (6-2) earn their first true road triumph.
“It was a really, really valuable win,” coach Joe Pasternack said. “Our team really came together tonight … Competed really, really hard.”
UCSB’s only other road victory came in a neutral arena in Santa Cruz against Fresno State.
Pepperdine (5-4), one of the top shooting teams in the country, was held to 36.5% from the field and 30.5% from three-point range. Pierre-Louis’ six steals also led to 20 turnovers for Pepperdine.
“Their three guys are shooting crazy percentages,” Pasternack said. “They make 12 to 14 threes a game. To hold that team to 36, 37% (and 30.8% from three-point distance) is just a credit to how hard our guys competed defensively.”
Mitchell shook off a missed shot at the end of regulation to score UCSB’s last five points in the overtime’s final 1:31. His free throw after a technical foul broke a 62-all tie, his running floater with 28 seconds remaining pushed the lead up to 65-62, and his two foul shots with 14 seconds left got the margin up to 67-62.
“He’s really good at the end of games,” Pasternack said of his sophomore point guard. “As my mother would say, ‘He’s as cool as a cucumber.”
Mitchell, who finished with 15 points, also asserted himself defensively. He made four steals while holding Pepperdine’s player of the same surname — Mike Mitchell Jr. — scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting with four turnovers. He had been averaging 14 points per game.
“Ajay did an unbelievable job defensively on their point guard,” Pasternack said. “He was shooting 50% from three coming into the game.”
Pierre-Louis finished with 16 points on 8-for-14 shooting. Miles Norris also scored 16 — 10 in the first eight minutes when the Gauchos took a 21-13 lead.
UCSB jumped out to a 10-2 lead after making five consecutive shots in the first two-plus minutes. It cooled off after that to finish at 42.4% from the field and 15.4% (2-for-13) from three-point range.
“We came out of the gates blazing, but they’re really, really hard to guard,” Pasternack said. “They’re an unbelievable transition team.
“They’re third in the country in three-point shooting (43.3%) and their pace is 40th in the country (80.5 points per game). They just keep coming at you in waves.
The Gauchos made 9-of-12 shots in the first nine minutes. Norris converted a three-point play to put them ahead 21-13 with 11:23 left until halftime.
Pepperdine took a 33-29 lead with just over two minutes in the first half. A three by Calvin Wishart and a scoring steal by Pierre-Louis trimmed that margin to one point by halftime.
Lewis Maxwell, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, helped the Waves keep pace with UCSB in the second half. He scored 19 of his game-high 24 points after halftime. He also had eight rebounds.
“I’ve seen a lot of NBA players, and he’s a first-round pick,” Pasternack said.
Maxwell’s three-pointer reduced the Gauchos’ lead to 57-56 with 1:26 to go. A free throw by Boubacar Coulibaly tied the game with 45 seconds remaining, but he missed the second. Andre Kelly, UCSB’s leading rebounder with eight, then blocked Coulibaly’s potential game-winning layup with five seconds left in regulation.
Pepperdine led for the last time, 62-60, on Lewis’ basket with 2:42 remaining in overtime. But a steal by Mitchell led to a layup by Wishart to tie the contest. Mitchell then finished off the Waves with his late-game scoring spree.
“You have to be able to compete defensively at an unbelievable level on the road,” Pasternack said. “We went 2-of-13 from three — couldn’t make open shots — and missed some free throws. We’re not shooting the ball well as a team right now.
“But our guys really played hard, and that’s all we can ask.”
UCSB returns home to play San Diego Christian on Monday at 7 p.m.