This is another in a series of stories looking back at the top moments and individuals over the last decade in UC Santa Barbara Athletics.
In 2010, the UC Santa Barbara men's basketball team won the Big West Conference regular season and tournament championships. With the core of the team returning for the 2011 season, the Gauchos were expecting to contend again.
For much of the 2011 season, things didn't go as planned. UCSB slogged its way through most of the regular season, never winning more than three consecutive games. A victory over Cal Poly in the final game of the regular season ended a three-game losing streak and improved the Gauchos' record to 15-13 overall and 8-8 in Big West play. They would enter the following week's conference tournament as the No. 5 seed.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Santa Barbara made an unprecedented run at the Big West Conference Tournament, the first ever played at Honda Center in Anaheim.
The Gauchos stormed to wins over Pacific, Cal State Northridge and top-seeded Long Beach State to claim their second straight tournament title and NCAA Tournament bid. In winning the three straight games, they extended their winning streak to four games, the longest of the season. UCSB also became the first school in Big West Tournament history to defeat three teams that it had lost to two times each during the regular season.
What follows are the original recaps from an improbable march to the 2011 Big West Conference Tournament championship. They were originally published on UCSBgauchos.com.
Johnson Leads UCSB Past Pacific in Big West Tourney, 79-67
March 10, 2011
ANAHEIM, Calif. - Orlando Johnson scored 32 points and James Nunnally added 19 to lead fifth-seeded UC Santa Barbara to a 79-67 win over fourth-seeded Pacific in the first round of the ampm Big West Tournament at Honda Center in Anaheim on Thursday.
Johnson's 32 points were the most ever scored by a Gaucho in a league tournament game.
Pacific (16-15) led 11-8 about six minutes into the game, but UCSB (16-13) went on a 10-0 run that was capped by a Jordan Weiner three-pointer to take an 18-11 lead with 11:02 to play in the first half. The advantage was still six, 26-20 with 3:22 left, but freshman Troy Leaf made three-point baskets from the top of the key to end the half giving the Gauchos a 32-20 lead at the break.
Santa Barbara stayed hot in the second half. A Nunnally three-pointer pushed the lead to 37-24 and then after a Terrell Smith three cut the lead back to 10, Johnson made back-to-back threes to push the lead to 43-27.
Pacific fought back. A Smith lay-up off of a Gaucho turnover brought his team back to a single-digit deficit, 45-36.
It was the last time the UCSB lead dipped below 10 the rest of the game.
The Gauchos led by as many as 22 points twice, the final time coming when Johnson had a steal and a breakaway slam dunk with 5:17 remaining in the game. They still led by 21 before Allen Huddleston made a trio of three-pointers in the final 56 seconds to make the score look closer.
"Obviously, I'm very pleased to get the win," said UCSB head coach Bob Williams. "We'd played Pacific two previous times and not done very well against them, and not defended well. I thought tonight we defended at a very high level and we had great energy. We shot the ball well, and rebounded it, and we caused some match-up problems for them."
The last time the teams met, on Feb. 3, the Tigers made 11-of-18 three-point attempts, 61.1%, and beat the Gauchos by a 74-68 count. On Thursday, they made just 6-of-20, 30.0%, and were 3-of-17 before Huddleston made three in the final minute. Ironically, UCSB was 11-of-18 in this game.
"We did a better job of matching up and switching," Williams said. "Our zone has morphed a little bit. We've changed it a little bit so it gives us a better chance to match up with people. We did it against Cal Poly, we did it against Pacific. It was really Pacific that forced us to make that change last time we played them. If you stay in front of them and get good contest on them, they're not going to make shots like they did earlier against us."
UCSB, on the other hand, had one of its best shooting efforts of the year, making 28-of-49 overall, 57.1%.
Senior guard Justin Joyner had nine assists for the Gauchos and Nunnally added six rebounds to go with his 19 points.
Pacific was led by Huddleston who had 21. He made five three-pointers. Demetrece Young had 15 and Smith 12. Sam Willard, a First Team All-Big West choice, was limited to nine on 3-of-13 from the field.
UCSB will play Cal State Northridge in the Big West Tournament semifinal on Friday. The Matadors easily defeated Cal State Fullerton in the late game on Thursday night. Tip-off for the game will be at approximately 8:30 p.m.
UCSB Blasts Northridge 83-63, Takes on Top-Seeded Long Beach for Big West Title
March 12, 2011
ANAHEIM, Calif. - Orlando Johnson, fresh off his 32-point performance last night against Pacific, picked up where he left making all five of his three-point attempts and scorching Cal State Northridge for 30 points to lead UC Santa Barbara to an 83-63 victory over the No. 3 Matadors Friday night at Honda Center.
UCSB, the No. 5 seed, returns to the 2011 ampm Big West Tournament championship game to defend its title against No. 1 Long Beach State, the team it defeated to win the 2010 title. Tip-off is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. at Honda Center.
Johnson has been on fire in the tournament, setting a Gaucho tournament scoring record on Thursday night and narrowly missing again tonight. In two games, he has scored 62 points, shot 19 for 33 (57.6%) from the field, including 9-of-12 (75%) from three-point range, and made 15-of-17 free throws (88%). On Friday night, the junior also set a Gaucho record with his five three-point baskets
Lenny Daniel led Cal State Northridge with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Rashaun McLemore scored 13 points and Josh Greene chipped in with 12 of his own for the Matadors.
UC Santa Barbara (17-13) controlled the game early taking leads of 11-4, 20-11 and 30-14 while sprinting out to a 40-19 halftime advantage. Serna and Johnson were a dominating duo from opening tip. Serna established the inside game scoring 12 points while Johnson provided the outside touch with 20 points and four of four shooting from three-point range as UCSB set the tone from the beginning.
"I didn't think we could play much better than we did in the first half yesterday," said head coach Bob Williams of the Gauchos' win over Pacific. "But we did tonight. I thought that first half was about the best basketball we've played in a long time."
McLemore did all he could in the first half for Cal State Northridge (14-18) scoring nine points but no other Matador scored more than three. Northridge shot a poor 22.2% from the field (6-of-27) while the Gauchos shot a solid 50.0% (14-of-28). Only one assist was credited to the Matadors.
The Gauchos scored the first five points of the second half to increase their lead to a surprising and staggering 45-19, the largest of the night. UCSB led 57-33 when Cal State Northridge mounted a comeback to close the gap.
Daniel, who scored only two points in the first half, rallied the Matadors on a 17-7 run by scoring on jumpers and free throws. Josh Greene's three-point shot from the top of the key helped cut the deficit to 64-50.
But Johnson calmly stepped to the foul line and converted two free throws followed by Serna making two from the charity stripe to give the Gauchos a comfortable 68-50 lead with 5:21 remaining in the game.
The teams traded baskets the rest of the way as UCSB held on for the win. Cal State Northridge finished a rough shooting night from the field (20-of-70, 28.6%) as they took 24 more shots but made just one more than the Gauchos (19-of-46, 41.3%).
The Gauchos made 37 of 48 free throws, including 30 of 38 in the second half.
Santa Barbara lost both contests earlier in the season to Cal State Northridge but this game was never in doubt as the Gauchos dominated from the outset and now find themselves playing for a second consecutive Big West Tournament crown in a rematch of last year's game.
No. 5 Gauchos Stun Top-Seeded Long Beach, Advance to 2nd Straight NCAA Tournament
March 12, 2011
ANAHEIM, Calif. - UC Santa Barbara picked a pretty opportune time to put together its first four-game winning streak of the season.
On Saturday, the fifth-seeded Gauchos (18-13) beat the No. 1 seed, Long Beach State (22-11), 64-56. It was their fourth consecutive win, the last three of which came at the 2011 ampm Big West Tournament. With its championship game win on Saturday night, UCSB qualifies for the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season.
"This one was pretty special," said head coach Bob Williams after his team led from nearly start-to-finish against a team that had beaten them badly twice during the regular season. "Who would have guessed three weeks ago that we would be here? I don't know that you would have two people in our locker room, two people on our campus, two people in Southern California who would have said we would be here. I said to the guys before the game that some people play in big games and other people win big games. We came in with an attitude and a confidence about us."
Tournament MVP Orlando Johnson scored 23 points, including 18 in the second half. He also made two huge three-point baskets midway through the second half to spark the victory. Jaimé Serna had 14 points and eight rebounds and James Nunnally added 12 points and seven rebounds. Both Serna and Nunnally were selected to the All-Tournament Team.
Jon Pastorek scored five points, but he also pulled down a career-high 12 rebounds and was a pivotal defensive player as the Gauchos limited the 49ers to 28.8% shooting.
"I easily could have seen him on the all-tournament team," Williams said of Pastorek. "He went against (Sam) Willard in the first game and held him almost to a season-low. He went against Lenny Daniels (Northridge) and held him way down. Jon had a huge influence on this game defensively, going against T.J. (Robinson), another all-league player. Look at the combined shooting percentages of those three players in those three games, and you look at the fact that we had to win this thing defensively."
The trio of Willard, Daniels and Robinson combined to make 10-of-41 shots during the tournament, 24.4%.
UCSB jumped out to a 19-9 lead just over eight minutes into the game, but Long Beach battled back and actually took a 26-25 lead on a three-pointer by Greg Plater with 2:42 remaining in the half. A lay-up by Serna and a free throw and a Robinson free throw made the score 27-27 at halftime.
After the 49ers took a brief lead at the outset of the second half, the last one coming at 36-35 on a lay-up by Robinson with 13:48 left. The Gauchos then went on a 10-0 run, the last eight coming on an acrobatic lay-up and back-to-back threes by Johnson, the second coming with 9:19 remaining and pushing the UCSB lead to 45-36.
The 49ers wound barely eat into the Santa Barbara lead the rest of the way, coming within six three times, but never getting closer. Long Beach's final rally was squelched by Pastorek who made a three-pointer from deep in the corner with 1:31 left on the clock, giving the Gauchos a 59-50 lead.
UCSB made just enough free throws down the stretch (5-of-8) to secure its second straight league crown and NCAA Tournament bid. It marks the first time that the program has advanced to consecutive NCAA Tournaments.
"On the Monday after we lost to Long Beach the last time, we had a players only meeting," said Johnson, whose 23 points on Saturday evening gives him 653 on the season, a new school record. "I told the guys `they're league champs and we can't do anything about that, but we can worry about the tournament,' and we focused on that."
Williams and Johnson both acknowledged the defensive job that senior point guard Justin Joyner did on 49er guard Casper Ware, the Big West Player of the Year who made 5-of-17 shots overall and 2-of10 from three-point range for 14 points.
"That was the key," Johnson said. "J.J. really wanted to set the tone and go after him defensively. On the backline we just wanted to be there to help and make sure we were making Ware's life as difficult as can be. You look at J.J. who could have been the defensive player of the year. It helps to have a guy like that."
As a team, UCSB made 50.0% of its shots while Long Beach made just 19-of-66 overall, 28.8%, and 4-of-17 from three-point territory, 23.5%.