The UCSB defense that smothered team after team in an early season win streak was back on full display Saturday at the Thunderdome. Forcing 13 first-half turnovers and allowing only 13 UC Davis points, the Gauchos established an early dominance that was thorough and lethal, then cruised to a 60-45 win.
UCSB is now 4-3 in Big West Conference play, 15-5 overall, and this win helps right the Gaucho ship that had faltered recently in its three league losses.
Senior scoring leader Alex Harris looked to have finally shaken the flu that had depleted him of late, and his 14 points led a very balanced Gaucho offense. Chris Devine (12 points) hit five of six from the floor, Ivan Elliott added eight points and six rebounds, and the trio of Nedim Pajevic, D.J. Posley and Jordan Weiner each kicked in six points.
“Our bench helped us tremendously,” UCSB head coach Bob Williams said. “We don’t need guys to hit 12 or 14, off the bench. If we can get guys to come in and knock down a few shots, we can sub more often and keep everybody fresher. It helps our rebounding and our defense.”
Davis, now 2-5 in league, had serious trouble with both the Gaucho defense and finding the rim early in the game. It took the Aggies eight minutes to score their first basket, and they heated up little thereafter.
In the first half, Davis’ leading scorer, Vince Oliver, was scoreless, and as a team the Aggies shot 28 percent, and were one of nine from behind the three-point line.
But the Gauchos were not tearing up the nets either. After 10 minutes the score was only 10-4, and the scorekeeper looked to be having a very slow work night.
Enter Weiner, a freshman guard, who generated a first-half surge with two threes to buttress points by Devine and Harris and extend a 13-9 lead to 24-9.
“He (Weiner) does add another dimension when he’s in,” Williams said of Weiner. “ He is a very good shooter from the outside.”
A paucity of point productivity has beset the Gauchos many times this season, and Weiner could be a needed remedy for the condition.
James Powell, who had 20 points back-to-back against Cal State Fullerton and Cal Poly, had only five Saturday and didn’t take a shot in the first half.
While the offensive formula remains variable, UCSB as a team did shoot a very solid 49 percent from the floor against Davis, a huge leap from the 32 percent it posted against Pacific in its last game.
The Gauchos will try to stay on track at UC Riverside on Wednesday, before returning for a three-game home stand that starts Feb. 7.
With illness, cold nights and some tough losses behind them, UCSB needs to toughen in this stretch at home to press its bid for a conference title. There is no more wiggle room.
The 2,000-plus fans who saw UCSB’s latest statement against Davis know the commitment and energy level is high.
And so are their hopes.