Ajay Mitchell has eclipsed 20 points in four consecutive games. | Credit: Kristen Keller

A dominant second half boosted the UCSB men’s basketball team to a 81-62 victory over UC San Diego on New Year’s Eve at the Thunderdome.

The victory improved the Gauchos to 11-2 overall and 2-0 in Big West Conference play and extended their winning streak to seven games.

“Sometimes coming off Thursday to Saturday games it’s really hard to be mature enough to understand you are going to get everybody’s best shot when you are our team,” said UCSB coach Joe Pasternak. “We didn’t defend well, we had to make some adjustments in the second half.”

Ajay Mitchell continued his hot hand offensively and finished with a game-high 23 points, including 3-of-6 shooting from 3-point range. Five Gauchos scored in double figures overall and Josh Pierre-Louis added nine points as UCSB shared the ball magnificently en-route to 19 assists.

UCSB got off to a hot start and took an early 12-4 lead on a layup by Pierre-Louis with 15:53 remaining in the first half. However, the Tritons quickly cut into their deficit by virtue of a 19-10 run capped off by a Roddie Anderson III layup to take a 23-22 lead with 10:41 remaining.

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The two teams went back and forth for the remainder of the second half and a layup by Anderson with 33 seconds remaining before halftime put the Tritons ahead 43-40.

The second half was a complete role reversal as UCSB clamped down defensively and held UC San Diego to 18 points for the remainder of the game.

“We went back to how we do things defensively, through scouting we tried to change some things, it wasn’t a smart coaching move,” Pasternak said. “Our guys really responded in the second half and did an amazing job defensively and rebounding.”

UCSB methodically built its lead throughout the second half with a balanced attack spearheaded by Mitchelll and closed the game on a 22-7 run over the last 9:36 of the game as the Tritons offense dried up.

A Miles Norris dunk with 5:16 remaining gave the Gauchos a commanding 72-57 lead.

“We’re just getting better everyday defensively,” Morris said. We’ve got a lot of offensive guys, everybody on our team can score,but it’s going to come down to defense and rebounding. That’s what’s going to help us win at the end of the year.”

Next up for the Gauchos is a trip up north to renew the Blue-Green rivalry with Cal Poly on Saturday, beginning at 1 p.m.

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