UCSB will have to wait another week to celebrate a men’s basketball championship.
The Gauchos’ school-record, 13-game winning streak came to a dead halt with a 68-52 defeat at UC Riverside on Saturday.
UCSB (17-4, 11-3 Big West Conference) still leads second-place UC Irvine (14-8, 8-4) by two games in the league standings with just two regular-season games remaining at home on Friday and Saturday against last-place Cal Poly.
The Gauchos, who hadn’t lost since their 73-69 setback at UC Irvine on Dec. 28, suffered a complete breakdown. They shot only 36.5%, had just six assists with 16 turnovers, and were out-rebounded 37-32. They are 15-0 win they win the battle of the boards and 2-4 when they don’t.
The 52 points were the fewest UCSB has scored all year.
Riverside’s Zyon Pullin, whose missed layup in the closing seconds enabled the Gauchos to escape overtime on Friday, got his redemption on Saturday with a game-high 21 points. The Highlanders improved to 11-7 overall and 6-4 in the Big West.
The Gauchos struggled to get started, missing their first eight shots and committing a turnover during the first four minutes. Riverside made just two of its first eight attempts.
UCSB finally got untracked on Amadou Sow’s hook shot off Devearl Ramsey’s pass with 15:21 left in the first half. JaQuori McLaughlin scored underneath off a high-post pass from Destin Barnes the next time downcourt.
Sow and McLaughlin led the Gauchos with 17 points apiece. But Ajare Sanni, the Gauchos’ third-leading scorer on the season, and fellow guard Josh Pierre-Louis did not make the trip because of illness and “an abundance of caution” (with the COVID-19 pandemic), according to a university statement.
The Gauchos never led, but they did get as close as 10-8 after two more baskets by Sow.
A three-pointer by Wil Tattersall triggered a 9-2 run which put the Highlanders ahead 19-10.
Ramsey scored a runner, Sow converted a three-point play off McLaughlin’s pass, and Ramsey found him again for a layup as UCSB stayed within seven points, 24-17.
But the Gauchos went back into the deep freeze, making just one of seven shots — Ramsey’s three — during the last 5½ minutes of the half.
Pullin pulled the Highlanders farther ahead by scoring four quick points. Flynn Cameron ended the period with a long three as UCR entered halftime with a 34-20 lead.
Riverside shot just 40.8% in the first half, but UCSB made just 28.1%. Sow sank 5-of-9 shots and the rest of the Gauchos were just 4-of-23.
Sow, however, got into quick foul trouble during the second half and scored just one more point in the next 10 minutes.
McLaughlin, who made only 1-of-7 shots in the first half, made 6-of-8 in the second half while scoring 15 of his 17 points. He brought the Gauchos to life by converting a jumper and a driving, three-point play during the first two minutes of the period.
But the Highlanders’ George Willborn III stripped the ball from him two minutes later to score a layup and key an 8-1 run that increased their margin to 18, 45-27, with 13:50 remaining. McLaughlin and Ramsey, who both rank among the nation’s top-two playmakers in assist-to-turnover ratio, combined for nine turnovers on Saturday.
UCSB finally found the range from three with back-to-back bombs by Sékou Touré and Ramsey. An alley-oop dunk by Robinson Idehen off McLaughlin’s lob capped an 8-0 run that reduced UCR’s lead to 45-35.
The Gauchos were still within 10 with 11:41 left, but each of their next three possessions disintegrated with a turnover. The Highlanders seized the opportunity with a 7-0 run and were never threatened again.