Westmont's Blake Bender (left) goes head to head The Master's Raphael Harris
Paul Wellman

From the bluffs of Isla Vista to the ridges above Montecito, cliffhangers have become commonplace at UCSB’s and Westmont College’s basketball games. Here is a midseason report on the Gauchos and Warriors:

UCSB MEN: Pacific Tigers coach Bob Thomason threw one of the best tantrums in many a year at the Thunderdome last Sunday. His vehement protest to the officials did not seem like a good idea at the time—it resulted in a technical foul and two free throws by UCSB’s James Nunnally that gave the Gauchos a 67-60 lead with a little more than a minute to play. Then their fortunes shifted into reverse, and Pacific took advantage of some favorable calls. The Gauchos led just 68-67 with seven seconds remaining when the Tigers rebounded a missed free throw. With a chance to win, Pacific’s Sam Willard bowled into Will Brew, and the charging violation preserved the Gauchos’ one-point victory. It lifted them to the top of the Big West standings (3-1 in the conference, 8-6 overall), ahead of Pacific.

Bob Williams was relieved the final call went UCSB’s way. “Will Brew … drawing a charge, that was huge,” said Williams, in his 12th season as coach of the Gauchos. He was worried about the guilt trip that the cagy Thomason, in his 22nd year at Pacific, had laid on the officials.

Prior to Sunday, the Gauchos had been a great second-half team. In last Friday’s game, televised by ESPNU, they went on a 42-21 tear in the final 20 minutes to defeat UC Davis, 68-47.

“We played a little too tentatively when we got up by 10,” Orlando Johnson said after the Pacific game. “We’ve got to keep learning.” Johnson scored 24 points against the Tigers, his 14th consecutive game in double figures, and Nunnally, another big (6’5”) sophomore guard, scored 20.

The Gaucho men play at pre-season favorite Long Beach State tonight (Thu., Jan. 14) and then host a key stretch of home games—UC Riverside on Saturday night; Cal State Fullerton on January 23 (the night a basketball “Legend of the Dome” will be unveiled); and Cal Poly on January 28.

WESTMONT MEN: The Warriors entered the week with an 11-3 overall record and 3-2 in the Golden State Athletic Conference, which presents a stiff challenge every night. “It’s the best the league’s ever been,” said Westmont coach John Moore, noting that the GSAC had three teams ranked in the NAIA’s top 10—Concordia (No. 2), Biola (No. 4), and Fresno Pacific (No. 7). Biola brought a 15-0 record into Westmont’s Murchison Gym on Tuesday night.

The Warriors, ranked No. 22, hope to be part of a GSAC surge into the NAIA national tournament. They averted an upset at home last Saturday night, surviving a late rally by The Master’s to score a 72-71 victory. Their next home game will be January 23 against Vanguard.

Westmont’s execution of the Princeton offense can be beautiful to watch. The Warriors are one of the NAIA’s best shooting teams (51.7 percent overall, 43.8 percent from downtown).

UCSB WOMEN: The Gauchos (2-1 Big West, 5-10 overall) have been lurching in the right direction since a difficult December. But their dicey ball control—a whopping 22.5 turnovers a game—prompts every opponent to get in their faces. At the defensive end, UCSB holds one of the nation’s best block parties, swatting away almost seven shots a game. Junior center Mekia Valentine has had as many as 11 blocks in a game. Opponents like to play “Mug-a-Mek” with the 6’4” Valentine, and UCSB needs her to make them pay by sinking free throws.

The Gaucho women host Long Beach State tonight, and they begin a stretch of four consecutive home games January 30 against Cal State Northridge.

Westmont’s Amber Stevens goes up for a rebound. The senior guard had 11 points and 10 rebounds in the Warriors’ loss to The Master’s last Saturday.
Paul Wellman

WESTMONT WOMEN: The GSAC is also loaded on the women’s side. The Warriors (3-2, 10-3), ranked No. 20 in the NAIA, must contend with No. 3 (Point Loma Nazarene), No. 4 (Vanguard), and No. 12 (Azusa Pacific). They will host Vanguard at 5:30 p.m. on January 23, before the men’s game.

Three Westmont seniors—Jessica Case, Alisha Heglund, and Amber Stevens—have scored more than 1,000 points in their careers, and they hope to make a fourth consecutive trip to the NAIA nationals. Stevens, a former standout at Dos Pueblos High, is third in the nation in assists (6.42 per game).

GAMES OF THE WEEK: How deep is the field of girls’ water polo teams at Santa Barbara’s Tournament of Champions? Just look at the CIF Division 1 rankings and check off the top nine schools. They’ll all be here, headed by defending CIF champion Dos Pueblos. The action starts Friday afternoon (Jan. 15) at the D.P. and S.B. High pools and continues Saturday. … Mexico and Denmark send their under-23 men’s soccer teams (the Olympic level of competition) to UCSB’s Harder Stadium for a 2 p.m. match on Sunday.

BIRD COUNT: Joan Lentz reported that Santa Barbara’s tally of 216 bird species on January 2 was tied for second nationwide with Guadalupe Delta, Texas. Another Texas site, Mad Island Marsh, soared away with the highest number at 231.


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