Andre Kelly, shown dunking in a game earlier this year, scored a season-high 22 points and added 11 rebounds to lead UCSB's 73-65 men's basketball victory at UC Irvine on Monday.
Andre Kelly, shown dunking in a game earlier this year, scored a season-high 22 points and added 11 rebounds to lead UCSB's 73-65 men's basketball victory at UC Irvine on Monday. Credit: Jeff Liang Photo


UCSB's seventh-straight road win gives Joe Pasternack his first coaching victory in six seasons at Irvine’s Bren Center

UC IRVINE — A breakout of the stomach flu couldn’t prevent one of the gutsiest wins of UC Santa Barbara’s men’s basketball season.

The Gauchos, playing without starting guard Josh Pierre-Louis and four reserves, bounced back from their first loss of 2023 by rallying for a 73-65 win at first-place UC Irvine on Monday.

“What a win!” UCSB coach Joe Pasternack gushed. “All our guys went to war tonight.

“Five of our players are sick, but our guys really competed.”

The Gauchos got double-doubles from post players Andre Kelly (22 points and 11 rebounds) and Miles Norris (16 and 12) — to hand the Anteaters (12-6, 5-1 Big West Conference) their first league defeat.

UCSB also got another big second half from point guard Ajay Mitchell, who scored 12 of his 14 points in the final 20 minutes. He added seven assists to his night’s work.

The victory brings the Gauchos (14-3, 5-1) to within a half-game of new Big West leader UC Riverside (13-6, 6-1). Hawai’i (14-4, 5-1) is also among the log-jam atop the conference standings.

Riverside halted UCSB’s nine-game winning streak on Saturday with a 65-64 triumph at the Thunderdome. Monday’s bounce-back victory, however, extended the Gauchos’ road winning streak to seven games.

“For me, as a coach, it’s a huge shame what happened Saturday,” Pasternack said after getting his first win at Irvine in six seasons. “But how do you respond when something bad or good happens?

“We didn’t respond very well to our success on Saturday, and now we’re going to have to move past this.”

UCSB out-shot the Anteaters 55.8% to 42.9% and out-rebounded them 31-28.

“It all comes down to defense and rebounding,” Pasternack said. “They shot just 38% in the second half and we won the rebounding war.”

Both teams played without starters. Irvine center Bent Leuchten, a seven-footer from Germany, had arthroscopic surgery after injuring his knee last week. Pierre-Louis, the Gauchos’ best defender and a 10.1 points-per-game scorer, watched the game on TV from his sick bed at UCSB’s hotel.

Backup center Jakov Kukic and walk-ons Gage Gomez, David Pickles and Henry Hartwell were also bed-ridden.

“Josh begged me — begged me — to let him play, but he threw up 16 times between last night and this morning,” Pasternack said. “To his credit, he wanted so badly to play, but I didn’t want him to get everybody else sick.

“It was hard not having Josh out there because he plays so hard and is such a big part of what we do, but I thought everybody stepped up.”

Cole Anderson, pictured in Saturday’s basketball game against UC Riverside, scored 10 points and played stellar defense on UC Irvine’s D.J. Davis in Monday’s 73-65 road victory over the Anteaters. (Gary Kim Photo)

Reserve guard Cole Anderson, UCSB’s leading three-point shooter on the season, picked up the bulk of Pierre-Louis’ playing time with 33 minutes of action. He responded by sinking four jump shots which included a pair of three-pointers to finish with 10 points.

But the sophomore guard drew Pasternack’s highest praise for helping to hold Irvine star D.J. Davis to 12 points on 4-for-13 shooting.

“Cole played (at Clovis West High) for Hall of Fame coach Vance Wahlberg, and Vance told me that he didn’t hold him accountable defensively because, ‘I needed him to score,’” Pasternack pointed out. “I get that. It’s the same thing with a lot of NBA lottery picks.

“But his ability to guard this season has been such an unbelievable change. He’s gone from being a defensive liability to a very good defender, and it’s all because of sheer guts. He plays so hard.”

The game was a yo-yo match until the final two minutes, with 11 ties and 11 lead changes.

“We have a mature team,” Pasternack said. “We have competitors who play hard and want to win.”

UCSB kept pace during the first half behind Kelly’s 7-for-9 shooting and seven rebounds. His final tally of 22 points on 11-for-14 shooting was a season-high. His 11 rebounds marked the first time he’s reached double-digits on the backboards since the Dec. 3 game against Pacific.

“He’s been sick and has had some nagging injuries — a back injury for the past month or so,” Pasternack said of his 6-foot-9 graduate transfer from Cal. “I haven’t talked about it a lot, but he’s feeling much better now.

“I think he’s fully healthy and he really did a great job tonight.”

Anderson came off the bench to hit three consecutive jumpers in the final 6½ minutes of the first half. His three-pointer — UCSB’s first of the game — gave the Gauchos their first lead since the opening minutes, 29-28.

They gave the lead back during the final two minutes of the period by committing a pair of shot-clock violations. The Anteaters, meanwhile, took a 32-29 lead into halftime after Davis found Dean Keeler inside for the last two baskets of the period.

UCSB out-shot them 58.3% to 46.9% in the first half, but eight turnovers saddled the Gauchos with their three-point deficit. They committed only three more turnovers the rest of the game.

Kelly resumed pummeling Irvine inside with three more baskets in the first nine minutes of the second half. Two of them came on back-to-back possessions to put UCSB ahead 44-42.

“Both teams came in highly motivated knowing what was at stake and I give Santa Barbara credit for playing well tonight,” UCI coach Russell Turner said. “What I told the team is that I need to be better in terms of what I am demanding from our guys and their defensive intensity.

“We were good enough offensively to win tonight, but we just didn’t defend very well.”

A three by Dawson Baker, the Anteaters’ leading scorer with 17 points, gave them their final lead of 47-46 with 10:20 to go. They tied the score twice more, but the Gauchos answered both times — first on a three-point play by Norris with 8:24 left and again on Ajare Sanni’s three with 4:08 remaining.

“Ajare was under the weather as well, so credit to him,” Pasternack said.

Ajay Mitchell, left, and Miles Norris, shown in a game earlier this season, came up with big plays down the stretch to lead UCSB to its 73-65 men’s basketball victory at UC Irvine on Monday.

UCSB pulled away with a 9-3 run in the final two minutes, beginning with Mitchell’s whirling bank shot.

“Having the ball in his hands at the end is big for us,” Pasternack said.

Norris, who scored 14 of his 16 points in the final 8:24, got eight in the last 1:27 alone. He sank four free throws and a three-pointer from the top of the key which jammed against the heel of the rim before softly dropping into the basket.

The clutch three barely beat the shot clock while giving the Gauchos a 71-65 lead with 33.7 seconds to go.

Norris also got nine of his 12 rebounds in the second half.

“At halftime, we told him, “You’ve got only three rebounds … We’re not winning if you don’t rebound,’” Pasternack said.

The Gauchos will return home for 7 p.m. games on Thursday against Cal State Northridge and Saturday against Cal State Bakersfield. They will have played five games in just 11 days.

“It’ll be a great, great challenge for us,” Pasternack said. “We’ve been going straight through since last Monday — these kids haven’t had a day off since then.

“These kids will finally get a day off tomorrow. It’s well-deserved.”