Yohan Traore scores a career-high 23 points while Josh Pierre-Louis adds 17
EL PASO, Tex. — Ajay Mitchell was all dressed up but with no place to go.
UC Santa Barbara decided shortly before Monday’s basketball tipoff to keep its hobbled point guard under wraps for the second-straight game.
The result was much like the first.
The Gauchos matched the 17 turnovers they committed in their home-opening defeat and suffered an 89-76 loss at Texas-El Paso.
“We have to fix that,” coach Joe Pasternack said. “You can’t win home or on the road with 17 turnovers.
“We’ve never been a team that’s turned the ball over. We’ve actually done a great job of taking care of the ball.”
But he’s also never had to play without his top two point guards.
Mitchell, the returning Big West Conference Player of the Year, sat for the second-straight game with a sprained ankle.
“We wanted to watch him in warmups today,” Pasternack said. “His health, first and foremost, is most important.
“We decided not to play him tonight, but he’s really, really close. I expect to have him cleared this week.”
Missing in Action
The Gauchos are missing four of 12 scholarship players altogether. Creighton transfer Ben Shtolzberg, who is expected to back up Mitchell at the point, is also sidelined by a shoulder injury.
“We’ve got a ton of respect for UC Santa Barbara,” UTEP coach Joe Golding said. “That’s a heck of a program. And what they’ve done over the last five or six years is something we’re trying to get to — two NCAA Tournaments the past three years.
“They were obviously short-handed tonight without the preseason player of the year. We understand that.
“I’m proud of our guys, we’re really, really happy for them. We ask them to do a lot of tough things, and tonight they got rewarded for it.”
Josh Pierre-Louis, who normally plays the three spot, started at point guard for the second-straight game. He had plenty of good moments which added up to 17 points and five assists. But he also had six turnovers.
“It’s just hard to have him play 40 minutes at the one … It’d be hard for anybody,” Pasternack said. “But you can’t rest anybody with the current situation we’re in.
“I’m looking forward to getting these guys back.”
UTEP (3-0) scored 28 points off UCSB turnovers. It out-shot the Gauchos 54% to 48.1%.
UCSB (0-2) committed two turnovers in the first 80 seconds alone to fall behind 5-2.
Pierre-Louis’ three-pointer finally got the Gauchos on track.
Yohan Traore, a 6-foot-10 transfer from Auburn, joined the fun by scoring 12 points in the first 9½ minutes. He dunked off a lob from Cole Anderson to give UCSB its biggest lead of 19-13.
Traore finished with a team-high 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting. He also made 9-of-13 free throws and grabbed six rebounds.
“Yohan was really physical,” Pasternack said. “He wasn’t fading. He was attacking the basket aggressively.
“I thought he really took a step today.”
Pierre-Louis scored a pair of runners to keep the Gauchos ahead 26-21.
The turnover, however, kept popping up. Ten UCSB giveaways in the first half led directly to 15 points for the Miners.
Tied at Halftime
A late three by Anderson helped the Gauchos score the last five points of the period to catch UTEP at 44-all. He was 3-for-5 from three in the game to account for all nine of his points.
UTEP’s Zid Powell attacked UCSB’s man-to-man defense to score 19 of his 23 points during the first 20 minutes. Tae Hardy added 12 of his 19.
UCSB out-shot the Miners in the first half 58.3% to 48.5% and out-rebounded them 19-15, but the turnovers left it with nine fewer shots.
“We outrebounded a very tough rebounding team (36-35) and did some good things, but we have no chance with 17 turnovers,” Pasternack said. “We have no transition defense to stop it.
“That’s been the story the last two games.”
The second half started like the first, with three turnovers in the first two minutes. UTEP scored four easy baskets and never looked back.
Calvin Solomon had a big second half for the Miners with 10 of his 12 points and eight of his game-high 13 rebounds.
The Miners pulled ahead by 17 points, 72-55, when Hardy assisted Corey Camper’s fast-break basket in spectacular fashion with a sprawling, no-look, back-handed flip.
UTEP scored 18 points in transition. Its penetrating attacks inflated its paint points to 58.
“I give them all the credit,” Pasternack said.
“What a great experience for our team to go on the road and play a team like this,” he added. “It was packed in there. They have a really great tradition.
“They’re a physical, hard-playing team. For us, moving forward, we have to play that hard.”
The Gauchos did rally to within 76-67 on Jason Fontenet’s three free throws and Pierre-Louis’ dunk off a steal.
But UCSB faltered from there, shooting just 2-for-12 in the final six minutes.
“They wore us down in the second half,” Pasternack pointed out. “They were subbing in and out, and they wore us down.”
Fontenet, a 6-6 freshman from Arizona, finished with 10 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Ariel Bland, a 6-7 junior, also had six rebounds while scoring 13 points.
“Ariel is a great example of someone who’s honored the process,” Pasternack said. “He hasn’t played for two years — and he just kept working on his game, getting better and better. He didn’t get frustrated.
“He learned a lot under Miles Norris, an NBA player (with the Atlanta Hawks) — went against him every single day. A lot of days, he got the best of him.
“It’s a great story, to see someone in college basketball stay patient. Most players in college basketball would transfer, but Ariel stuck it out, and he’s gotten a lot better.”