There’s nothing like an exciting “W” on the home court to energize a basketball team. At the Thunderdome last Saturday, UCSB’s 83-81 win over Cal Poly in double overtime transformed “Ow” to “Wow.” The Gauchos’ prospects looked bleak after leading scorer and rebounder Alan “Big Al” Williams was sidelined in the first half by a knee injury.
They had to play catch-up with the visiting Mustangs for most of the game, but each time defeat was imminent, they staved it off:
• Forty seconds to play in regulation: UCSB freshman Taran Brown tosses in a long three-pointer to tie the score, 66-66, and the defense gets a stop to send the game into overtime.
• Eleven seconds left in the first overtime: Mitch Brewe — one of the freshman subs for Williams — finishes off a pick-and-roll feed from Nate Garth and ties it up again, 71-71.
• Twelve seconds left in the second overtime: Junior guard Kyle Boswell makes a driving layup while taking a foul and sinks the free throw, giving the Gauchos their 83-81 lead that the Mustangs cannot erase with a final shot that comes up short.
Adding sauce to the dish, Gaucho coach Bob Williams fiercely confronted Joe Callero when the Cal Poly coach wouldn’t stop complaining about a timer malfunction.
UCSB hopes the exhilaration on the floor and in the stands — the student crowd was visibly and audibly shaken out of its doldrums during the comeback win — will carry over into the Gauchos’ remaining games. They host Cal State Northridge on Thursday night, January 24, and play another televised game Saturday, January 25, at 4 p.m., against Hawai‘i.
Early this week, the status of “Big Al” Williams was listed as “doubtful” for those games, throwing Brewe and Sam Beeler, the freshmen posts, into the fire again. Hawai‘i will be especially challenging. The Rainbow Warriors are led by 6’8” junior Christian Standhardinger and 6’10” senior Vander Joaquim, and they have a 7-footer in reserve.
Assistant coach Scott Fisher, who oversees their front court, will feel at home in the Thunderdome. Fisher was a UCSB warrior three decades ago, remembered by longtime fans for taking a punch from Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon in 1983. A member of the Gaucho Athletic Hall of Fame, he still holds the school record for points in a game — 39, scored at Montana State in 1985. Fisher went on to become a perennial all-star in Australia’s National Basketball League and played on the Aussie Olympic team, and as a coach, he took the Perth Wildcats to four consecutive NBL Finals.
BEST IN STATE: In a sport where he has to take on dozens and even hundreds of competitors all at once, Bryan Fernandez of Dos Pueblos High went undefeated in 11 cross-country races last fall. He was the State Division 2 champion as well as an exemplary performer in the classroom, which led to his being named California’s Gatorade Cross Country Runner of the Year. Fernandez was an also-ran in his 12th race, the Nike Cross Nationals in Oregon, but that merits an asterisk. The rain-soaked course at the Portland Meadows horse track was a quagmire. “With every step, you would sink down a ton,” Fernandez said. He surged to the lead in the first half mile, but the sticky goo sucked the vigor out of him, and he finished 66th out of 196 with many other highly decorated runners.
SOCCER BOOM: Tim Vom Steeg recalled that when he took over as head coach of UCSB men’s soccer 14 years ago, “The average attendance was 98.” In each of the six seasons since 2006, when the Gauchos won the NCAA title, they have led the nation in home attendance. The average turnout last fall was 5,543 per game.
One of the draws was first-year sensation Ema Boateng, who was named to the 2012 All-Freshman first team by Soccer America. Boateng (the Gatorade National Player of the Year at Cate School) and senior Nic Ryan earned NCAA All-Far West Region honors. Ryan led the Gauchos in scoring with eight goals. Boateng scored four times, each of them a strike as dazzling as lightning, and he led the team in assists.
The season ended grimly when the Gauchos suffered three sudden-death overtime defeats at home, and senior Peter McGlynn regrettably shoved a referee, which led to his being overpowered, cuffed, and arrested by police in front of a mortified crowd. An incident that would have been buried on a police blotter anywhere else made headlines. That was the price of the Gauchos’ fame and popularity.
At the soccer team’s banquet, Vom Steeg said of McGlynn, “He’s passionate, he cares, he’s Irish through and through … as we go forward, he’s going to be able to look back fondly at the time he spent at UCSB.” The coach promised the Gauchos, who went 10-6-3, will regroup next season: “We’re going to put Humpty-Dumpty together.”