Big West Roundup: Week 4

A series of comebacks and close wins feature this week's roundup of Big West hoops.

Second-half comebacks and close games were the story of the Big West last week. UC Santa Barbara finally got that big road win the Gauchos have been looking for and Long Beach State also closed out a three-game road trip with a close win over local foe Loyola Marymount. But a few other teams weren’t as lucky, as their comeback bids fell just short.

Santa Barbara’s Big Night

The Gauchos are experiencing some severe growing pains this season with 11 underclassmen on their roster. The low point of the young season came during a 68-40 loss to Wyoming last week at home. Kyle Boswell and Alan Williams alone combined for a little more than half of the Gauchos’ points. UCSB shot less than 30 percent from the field and a dismal 25 percent clip from behind the arc.

But what a difference three days can make.

Facing a Santa Clara team who was 5-1 and off to one of the best starts in school history, the Gauchos fell behind by 11 in the second half. But a furious rally helped Gauchos close the gap to just three points in the final minute of play. Boswell played the hero, dropping in a high arching three-pointer as time expired to force overtime.

A battle of an overtime period ensued, and the Gauchos (3-4) finally came away with their first road win.

"That was a great win for a very young team," said head coach Bob Williams. "This is just one game, but it's the kind of game I hope we can grow from. We had a lot of different players step up, and I'm excited about that."

Williams put the team on his back and carried them to overtime. After managing seven points in the bonus period, the sophomore forward fouled out but still finished with career numbers. Williams scored a game - and career high - 29 points and 17 rebounds. He banged his way through a tough inside defense, allowing the offense to play through the post.

Williams became the first Santa Barbara player since 1990 to have at least 25 points and 15 boards in the same game, earning him Big West Player of the Week honors.

"Big Al made a statement tonight," Williams said. "He was so big inside and he made life easier for our perimeter guys."

The win was much needed to build both confidence and momentum as Santa Barbara now heads to San Diego for its toughest test of the season so far, a Thursday contest at No. 17 San Diego State.

Davis cuts it close

In two games last week, the Aggies (1-4) were on the wrong end of some late theatrics.

First, facing Nevada in Reno, UC Davis was clinging to a slim 83-82 lead with less than five seconds to play. But Deonte Burton’s shot with 3.8 seconds left had just enough on it to go in and sink the Aggies, 84-83. A few days later, the Aggies were within three points of tying Idaho in the final minute of play, but the Vandals made key shots at the line late in the game and UC Davis fell, 73-66.

The Aggies haven’t had too much working in their favorite during this rough opening stretch, but the two pieces they do have, Corey Hawkins and Ryan Sypkens, have shined. Hawkins continues to lead the Big West in scoring, averaging 21.4 points per game and turning in 20 with six assists against the Vandals. Against the Wolfpack, Sypkens led the Aggs with 24 points behind a program-record 8-for-11 shooting performance.

UC Davis continues to score and is currently second in the Big West with an average of 76.6 points per game, but the Aggies continue to live and die by the three and are lacking defense on the other end of the court, making them a very one-dimensional team.

Unlucky in Las Vegas

Hawaii (4-2) had an 11-day break before traveling to Las Vegas to face No. 24 UNLV at the Thomas & Mack Center over the weekend. Christian Standhardinger’s 27 points and 10 boards weren’t enough to overcome a 33.9 percent shooting performance from the field by the Warriors, and Hawaii fell, 77-63.

"Christian could drive [by] their bigs," said head coach Gib Arnold. "They had trouble adapting to his aggressiveness. He played really well in the second half. I thought he was the most aggressive player out there." 

Standhardinger, a transfer from Munich, Germany, went 9-for-24 and made 9-of-12 free throws, but even Stanhardinger’s hot hand couldn’t get anything started from behind the arc. He went 0-for-4 and the ‘Bows made just one triple in 18 attempts.

"When you go 1 of 18, you aren't going to beat this team," Arnold said.

UNLV dominated in the first half, pulling out to a 21-8 lead early. Hawaii rallied late but still went into the locker room down, 48-27.

"We weren't ready to come out in the first half, they ran all over us,” Standhardinger said. "I thought UNLV hit us in the first half. We were on our heels and they were playing inspired basketball,” Arnold said. “We took it to them in the second half. We didn't rebound well and we didn't drive well [in the first half]."

Another Big West team that fell on hard luck in Vegas last week was UC Irvine. After a strong open to the season, the Anteaters (3-5) have now lost four in row after an 85-57 loss to the Rebels.

Zoning Out

Cal State Northridge (6-2) struggled against a tough UCLA zone defense on Wednesday night at Pauley Pavilion, going down 82-56 to the Bruins.

The perimeter game hasn’t been CSUN’s strength and coming into the contest, the Matadors had been averaging just 13 3-point attempts per game.  But the Bruins forced the Matadors to go outside and bothered them into poor shot selection from behind the arc, shooting at just a 19.2 percent clip. Even more troubling, missed layups caused by a tall UCLA lineup.

"Their length hurt us," said head coach Bobby Braswell. "We shot 16 3-point attempts in the first half. We settled for those shots. We didn't attack. When UCLA got settled in their zone and got their hands up, it was very tough to find good shots. And when we did get good looks, we missed."

The one positive aspect the Matadors can take from last Wednesday’s game is bench points: CSUN’s bench contributed 24 points and is averaging nearly 20 per game.

In Brief

Cal State Fullerton (3-4) dropped two absolute heartbreakers in the Pacific Northwest last week. The Titans had chances and even a nine-point lead but couldn’t overcome a 28 percent shooting mark in a 79-75 loss at Eastern Washington. In Seattle, two late free throws were the difference-maker as the Titans were barely edged by Washington, 74-72. It was two good showings for the Titans, who will host Cal State Bakersfield and Idaho State this week.

Long Beach State (3-4) grinded out a close game against Loyola Marymount but returned home and promptly dropped Monday’s game to Fresno State, 64-59. The Beach is 1-1 against the Bulldogs this season, having already defeated them in Fresno two weeks ago.

Cal Poly (2-3) failed to follow up its big win over UCLA with another, as the Mustangs were overtaken 86-68 by St. Mary’s in Moraga. With the exception of Chris Eversly, the Mustangs starting lineup was especially ineffective. The Cal Poly bench scored 25 while the other four starters only managed a combined 18.

Pacific (3-4) fell to No. 12 Gonzaga in Spokane last week. The Tigers will come home to face three tough opponents starting with Nevada on Tuesday night. San Francisco and Santa Clara will also visit the Tigers at the Spanos Center.