Despite trailing nearly the entire game, and the majority of it by double digits, the UCSB men’s basketball team had a chance to steal their second conference win of the season.
But a game-winning shot attempt grazed the right side of the rim and didn’t take a Gaucho bounce, leading to a 53-52 loss against UC Irvine Thursday night at the Thunderdome.
With the loss, UCSB falls to 8-9 overall and 1-5 in Big West play while UC Irvine improves to 9-7 and 4-3.
“For us, we are beat down, and I thought the guys that were available tonight competed really hard,” coach Joe Pasternack told Noozhawk after the game.
“But the difference for us is very simple. It’s not complicated. It’s all about the rebounding battle. That’s the key to the game, and credit to them, they are a very good team.”
UCSB was outrebounded 39-29, despite the fact senior forward Amadou Sow was able to pull down 11 boards to go along with 17 points for a double-double.
Trailing by 13 with just 8:40 left, Santa Barbara’s defense started to bring the Gauchos back.
With 2:52 left, Sow made a driving layup and got fouled in the process. After he made the ensuing free throw, the Gauchos trailed by six, 53-47.
After getting fouled on the next possession, Sow, who was 9-11 from the free-throw line Thursday, knocked down both, cutting the lead to four.
Finally, after forcing a UC Irvine turnover, UCSB got the ball back with 16.7 seconds.
Freshman guard Cole Anderson then made the biggest shot of his young career, knocking down an incredible three from the left wing to cut the lead to one with just 7.6 seconds left.
Anderson, who averages around 8 minutes per game, played a career-high 21 minutes as starting guard Ajare Sanni was out with an injury.
“When you take your starting guard out and a leader and you’re playing a freshman, it’s Cole Anderson who deserves a lot of credit for how hard he played against an experienced Irvine team,” Pasternack said.
After the made three, Santa Barbara forced UC Irvine into a 5-second violation, to give it chance to win.
The inbound pass went to Sow, who was quickly double-teamed and forced to give the ball up to Anderson, who drove right and took a contested shot for the win. The shot did not fall.
Asked about the final play, Pasternack said he wouldn’t change a thing.
“They were in a zone and they put three guys on Amadou and they weren’t going to let him beat them, but we were going to put the ball in our best players hands,” Pasternack said.
Pasternack appreciated the team’s effort, especially in that second half.
“We’re not that far off,” he said.
“I just told our guys our margin, every game, it’s like one rebound is determining winning and losing. We’re at Hawaii and it’s a one-possession game. We are at Long Beach and it’s a one-possession game and we give up an offensive rebound, so we’re one rebound away each game from turning the corner. We just gotta keep grinding.”
In the first half, UCSB was outworked by UC Irvine, who shot 50% from the floor and took control of the pace to take a 12-point lead into the break.
“They’re old guys, experienced players and I thought for the first four or eight minutes of the game, they really shocked us with how physical they were,” Pasternack said.
“But I thought we got a lot more comfortable and I thought our guys really battled back in the second half and competed.”
Santa Barbara opened the second half on a 14-9 run, getting out on the fast break multiple times and forcing a couple Anteater turnovers.
More importantly, UCSB knocked down two threes during that spurt, their first two threes of the game after going 0-6.
The Gauchos made just 3-20 from deep for the game.
Sow, who averaged 50% from deep coming into the night, shot a career-high five shots from deep, but none went through the basket.
“I thought we got some good shots. Amadou had some really good looks, but we couldn’t get anything to fall,” Pasternack said.
Colin Welp led UC Irvine with 17 points and seven boards.
UCSB’s next contest is against UC San Diego at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Thunderdome.