Three kinds of games occupied me during the holidays: basketball, football, and board games. It was fun to get the grandkids away from video schmideo (remember the Santa Barbara store of that name?) to play games involving cards, dice, and moving pieces. Their favorite was Sorry, which came to be known as “Screw Grandpa.”
Seemingly every time I checked on a college bowl game, I was sorry about the prediction I had posted in a contest with friends. I did pick Clemson to win one of the national semifinals — I want the Tigers to beat Alabama on Monday night, too — but my parlay to Michigan State over the Crimson Tide did not quite pan out. Then there was the surefire pick of Oregon, which led TCU 31-0 at halftime, in a game that ended up as a tribute to the late Yogi (“It ain’t over ’til it’s over”) Berra.
Two games had me questioning the wisdom of Heisman Trophy voters who awarded the prize to Alabama running back Derrick Henry. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who finished fifth in the voting, did it all in the Midshipmen’s 44-28 Military Bowl victory over Pittsburgh. He scored three touchdowns — running his career total to a record 88 — passed for another, and also caught a pass for a big gain. It was refreshing to hear Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo (a good story himself for spurning an offer from BYU to stay at Annapolis) talk about his senior players on ESPN: “I love those guys, and as Americans, we’re in great shape if we’ve got guys like that who are going to go protect us.”
The service academies are not breeding grounds for the NFL. Navy still managed to win 11 games, mostly against programs that recruited superior athletes. As an ESPN commentator put it in an expression I hope never to hear again: “They were out-athleted.” Their opponents were out-teamed.
As good as Reynolds was, there was another young man whose sensational performance in the Rose Bowl splattered eggs in the faces of the experts who deemed a straight-ahead power runner as the best player in the land. Stanford sophomore Christian McCaffrey, a bundle of fast-twitch muscles, was electrifying every time he touched the football against Iowa. The Hawkeye defenders must be thankful they didn’t break their ankles trying to catch McCaffrey as he darted around them.
HOOPTOWN: There were heaps of good basketball in our own gyms over the holidays. Santa Barbara High and San Marcos put on a terrific show in the championship game of Carpinteria’s Jim Bashore Classic. With Scott Everman scoring 31 points, San Marcos had a 13-point lead in the second half, but the Dons came roaring back to win, 52-51. “I’d rather watch these teams go at it than any Laker game,” a spectator said. The rivals will meet twice in Channel League play: January 15 at Santa Barbara and February 3 at San Marcos. On New Year’s Eve, the Dons won their own Holiday Classic, padding their record to 17-1. Bolden Brace scored 41 points in the title game against Westlake.
After watching some other team take the first-place trophy of the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions for the past 30 years, the Dons girls finally triumphed in front of their home crowd, beating league nemesis Ventura in the final, 55-49. Senior star Amber Melgoza’s smile was as wide as the three-point arc as she relished her first victory over the Cougars. Santa Barbara’s girls are 16-1, their only loss a 19-point thumping by top-ranked Chaminade in the West Coast Holiday Festival.
UCSB’s teams both wound up 2015 with impressive victories. The Gaucho men finally found success against the Pac-12 Conference, a gritty 83-78 win at Washington. The Huskies turned around and swept UCLA and USC last weekend. The Gauchos ended a month on the road with an 88-50 win over Seattle and brought in the New Year with their fourth consecutive victory, 87-46 over Point Loma. The streak improved UCSB’s record to 6-7 heading into its Big West opener Saturday at Hawai‘i.
The Gaucho women also came alive late in December at the Thunderdome, pounding La Verne 89-41 and Morehead State of Kentucky 93-78. UCSB’s 3-11 record is significant because it’s one more win than the women had all last season, when they started out 0-24. Morehead State came in as one of the nation’s top 10 teams in scoring and rebounding, but the Gauchos played at a pace as fast as head coach Bonnie Henrickson talks, and the Eagles couldn’t keep up. Makala Roper, a 5’7” sophomore, had 24 points, nine rebounds, and six assists. UCSB outrebounded the visitors, 50-35 — even without freshman Kali Jones, who had been the team’s leader on the boards until she was declared ineligible for academic reasons in mid-December.
The Gaucho women will be put to the test on Thursday night, January 7, when Cal Poly visits the Thunderdome to open conference play. The Mustangs, led by 6’3” junior Hannah Gilbert, pulled down an outrageous 74 rebounds in a 97-72 win over Sacramento State last week. UCSB has not beaten them since 2011.
OWLS TO BE FÊTED: The Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table press luncheons — every Monday at noon at Harry’s Plaza Café when schools are in session — enable the public to get up close and personal with area athletes and coaches. On January 11, in addition to the usual reports on winter sports, the Laguna Blanca girls’ volleyball team will be honored. The Owls won the CIF Division 4 championship and were the first Santa Barbara volleyball team to reach a State final.