Gauchos Storm Back From 15 Down in 2nd Half, Beat Mustangs 58-53

Clifton Powell (Photo by Percy Anderson)
Clifton Powell (Photo by Percy Anderson)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – UC Santa Barbara faced a 15-point second half deficit for the second consecutive game but this time they used a 17-0 second half run and completed the rally, defeating visiting Cal Poly 58-53 on Saturday night. 

The Gauchos (3-12 overall, 1-2 in the Big West) trailed conference frontrunner UC Irvine by 15 two nights earlier but could only close to within two before losing. Tonight, they had enough to beat the Mustangs (5-12, 0-3). 

"I guess we like to fall behind by 15 in the second half," said UCSB head coach Bob Williams. "I loved the way we really battled back tonight. When you can't make a shot for 27 or so minutes in a game, it would be easy to get discouraged, but we just kept playing and things started to go in our favor." 

The Gauchos missed all eight of their three-point attempts and shot just 34.5% overall in the first half, falling behind 35-24. They then missed their first five shots of the second half and watched Cal Poly claim a 39-24 lead on a mid-range jumper by Luke Meikle with 16:44 to play.

Alex Hart made back-to-back baskets and J.D. Slajchert made one of his own to carve the advantage to 39-30. The Mustangs still led by 11, 46-35, when Donovan Fields used a screen and a wide open lay-up at the 9:03 mark.

That was Cal Poly's last basket until Fields hit a three-pointer with 2:39 to play. In between Fields' baskets, UCSB had a 17-0 game-deciding run as the Mustangs missed eight consecutive shots and turned the ball over three times. 

Maxwell Kupchak started the by hitting a jumper from the side of the key. A driving lay-up by Clifton Powell and a floater by Eric Childress cut the lead to 46-41 with 7:23 on the clock. 

"I thought when we cut it to five we knew we were in a good position," Williams said. "The adjustments we made, like switching from a zone to a man defense, were starting to payoff." 

On Cal Poly's next possession, Childress stole the ball from Ridge Shipley and got it ahead to Max Heidegger, who was fouled by Victor Joseph. Heidegger made a pair of free throws to pull his team within three, 46-43. 

After Joseph missed a three on the other end, Powell calmly tied the score at 46 with UCSB's first three-point basket of the game, hitting the long distance shot from the left corner with 6:16 left in the game. 

"Clifton showed a lot of poise, not just for a freshman, but for anyone," Williams said. "Our young guys are getting better and better with each game and tonight he made a big difference for us." 

The Mustangs missed three shots on their next possession and after the Gauchos finally secured a rebounds, Childress made a jumper from just inside the top of the key to give them their first lead since early in the first half, 48-46. UCSB got back-to-back defensive stops and took advantage as Hart made a lay-up and Childress made a pair of free throws to extend the lead to 52-46 with 3:04 remaining in the game. 

A three-pointer by Fields with 2:39 left broke the drought and halved the Gauchos lead, but Powell responded again, draining a long three from above the top of the key making it 55-49 with just over a minute to play. A short jumper by Meikle cut the lead to 55-51 with 32 seconds left, but that was as close as it got. 

"It feels good to get the first one," Powell said. "We have a lot of confidence and kept fighting tonight. This a good win for us." 

Powell scored a career-high 13 points an added five rebounds. He made 5-of-8 field goals overall and both of his three-point attempts. Hart finished with a career-high 15 points to go along with 11 rebounds. It was his second career double-double. Childress had six points and eight assists. 

Overall the Gauchos shot 38.6%, but they were just 2-for-13 from outside the three-point arc. They also outrebounded Cal Poly 39-34 and had just seven turnovers. 

The Mustangs made 37.7% overall and hit 8-of-28 three-point attempts. However, they shot just 26.7% overall in the second half, including 2-for-15 from three-point range. Fields led them with 15 points. 

UCSB will hit the road for its next two games, traveling to Long Beach State on Thursday, Jan. 19 for a 7:30 p.m. game against the 49ers. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Prime Ticket.