UCSB coach Bob Williams wants every day to be Valentine’s Day for his men’s basketball team.
After a first half in which the Gauchos were “incredibly selfish,” according to Williams, they shared the ball liberally in the second half and defeated Long Beach State 79-64 in their Big West opener Thursday night at the Thunderdome.
“I encouraged them to be unselfish, love one another, share the love a little,” Williams said, attributing his message to “that Santa Cruz upbringing.” The 56-year-old coach grew up in the Northern California beach town.
Four UCSB starters scored in double figures, led by junior forward Chris Devine with 17 points. Guards Alex Harris and James Powell each scored 16, and forward Ivan Elliott tallied 13 points.
Williams had to be pleased that the Gauchos doled out 23 assists on their 31 baskets, and they refrained from sharing with Long Beach - only eight UCSB turnovers. The 49ers, meanwhile, coughed the ball up 22 times, 11 on steals by the Gauchos.
Gaucho point guard Justin Joyner had five assists and three steals.
UCSB jumped out to a 30-15 lead but then had a flurry of rushed shots that fueled a 49er comeback. Long Beach came within a point (36-35) on a 3-pointer by junior guard Donovan Morris, the leading scorer in the game with 19 points. The Gauchos forced three turnovers in the remainder of the first half and took a 42-35 lead at the break.
Williams contrasted a spell in the first half, when the Gauchos made only 10 passes in 15 possessions, with their play in the second half. “We had A-caliber possessions where we made five-six-seven passes” to get an open shot, Williams said.
The Gauchos took their biggest lead at 79-61 on a dunk by Harris off an assist from Powell. For the first time in his 13 appearances, Harris did not lead UCSB in scoring.
“I don’t think Al has to go out and be hot every night,” Williams said. “Team-wise, we have to play good basketball.”
The Gauchos, off to their best start since 1988-89, improved to 12-2 overall. They will face a stiff test Saturday night when Cal State Northridge (9-3) comes to the Thunderdome. The Matadors trounced Cal Poly 80-59 in their conference opener.
UCSB WOMEN WIN: Junior center Kat Suderman scored a career-high 19 points as UCSB held off Long Beach State 70-62 in Big West women’s action at the Pyramid in Long Beach. The Gauchos leveled their overall record at 6-6.
After taking a 40-30 lead at halftime, UCSB had to respond to several sorties by the 49ers. Long Beach trailed by only two points (60-58) late in the second half, but UCSB pulled away with two free throws and a steal by Jessica Wilson that keyed a fast break. Long Beach had a staggering 29 turnovers.
The Gaucho women will conclude their first conference road trip against Cal State Northridge at 4 p.m.