Cole Anderson and Miles Norris provided enough firepower for UCSB to overcome first-game jitters.
The Gauchos pulled away late in the second half to defeat San Francisco State, 75-59, on Monday night at the Thunderdome.
“Thank goodness for Cole Anderson and Miles Norris. They hit some big shots. I thought they really competed on the offensive end, but we’re a work in progress,” said UCSB coach Joe Pasternack. “We have a long way to go to get better.”
Anderson led all scorers with 25 points in the first start of his collegiate career. The sophomore guard shot 5-of-10 from three-point range and was relentless attacking the Gators’ defense throughout.
“Without defense, I’m not going to be able to stay on the floor, so that’s just my main focus,” Anderson said. “I give all the props to my teammates that found me, and I happened to hit the shots.”
UCSB came out of the gate clicking on all cylinders and took a 14-4 lead on an Anderson three-pointer with 16:06 remaining in the first half. A key feature of the Gauchos’ surge to open the game was suffocating defense that fueled easy transition opportunities.
The stats point to a dominant defensive effort by the Gauchos as they held San Francisco State to 35 percent shooting from the field, but Pasternack was disturbed with the way Toby Okwuokei and Jalen Flanagan broke down the defense at times, citing their combined 38 points as an area for improvement.
“I thought they got to the rim in the second half too easily, and our positioning I don’t think was very good at the end of the game,” Pasternack said. “Our defense has to be like it was the first four minutes of the game. That’s when I thought we were stifling defensively.”
Okwuokei buried a three-pointer just before the halftime buzzer to cut the Gators’ deficit to 32-27, but San Francisco State never took the lead in the second half.
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Another Okwuokei three-pointer cut the UCSB lead to 59-56 with 8:29 remaining in the second half, but the Gauchos closed the game on a 16-3 run that began with an Anderson layup.
UCSB enjoyed one of its biggest crowds in recent history as the student section was near capacity and created a loud and boisterous atmosphere.
“The students really showed up in force tonight,” Pasternack said. “I am so proud of our students and the fact that they showed up for us. It was a great student environment.”
The Gauchos were without key contributors Josh Pierre-Louis, Ajare Sanni, and Zach Harvey, as all three are nursing minor injuries and considered day-to-day.
Norris scored 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting, including several dunks that sent the crowd into a frenzy. Ajay Mitchell finished with 10 points and 10 assists, but struggled with his shooting touch and turnovers.
Andre Kelly, a 6’9″ grad transfer from Cal, chipped in six points and 14 rebounds while battling constant double teams.
Up next for the Gauchos is a trip to Santa Cruz where they will take on Fresno State in a neutral-site game at Kaiser Permanente Arena on Friday at 2 p.m.