SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — In a tale of two halves, the Matadors cut a 26-point Gaucho lead down to 69-67 after forward Willie Galick made two free throws with 25 seconds left in regulation.
Gaucho free throws down the stretch, however, helped ice the game and gave UC Santa Barbara a 74-69 victory over CSUN (10-18, 5-8 Big West) at the Thunderdome on Wednesday night.
After James Nunnally turned the ball over with 1:42 left in the game, Matador Vincent Cordell made a layup to cut the Gauchos’ lead to 66-60. On the Gauchos’ next possession, Kenny Daniels, who scored a game-high 23 points for CSUN, stole the ball and took it down the court for a basket.
The Gauchos (17-8, 11-3 Big West) then extended their lead to 69-62, but back came the Matadors again, with Mark Hill knocking down a 3-pointer to give CSUN one last breath.
But after Galick’s free throws, James Powell made a pair of his own with 20 seconds left and put an end to CSUN’s comeback.
“We didn’t play Northridge basketball in the first half, and, in the second half, we came out and executed,” said Hill, who scored 12 points. “We got what we wanted, but you got to play for 40 minutes.”
In the first half, the Matadors were unable to set up anything offensively and only picked up two assists. The Gauchos’ lengthy defense contested every shot the Matadors put up and forced them into 16 turnovers. CSUN scored only 17 points in the period as UCSB led 32-17 going into halftime.
The Matadors shot a cold 37.5 percent from the field (6-of-16) in the first half and went 0-of-3 from three-point range. The Gauchos, in contrast, went 4-of-9 from downtown, with Powell making three of those. Powell finished with 17 points for the game.
In the second half, it was a different story as CSUN outscored the Gauchos 52-42 and went 4-of-9 from long range. Daniels scored 18 points in the half.
Orlando Johnson’s 19 points led the way for UCSB, and Nunnally contributed 15 points, same as Jaime Serna.
Despite the loss, Hill still feels the Matadors can achieve their goal of getting back to the NCAA Tournament.
“We just have to practice and look forward to the Big West Tournament,” he said. “We still have a shot. It’s not over yet.”
The Matadors continue their road trip on Saturday night when they face UC Irvine, which is 4-9 in the Big West, tied with UC Riverside for last place in the conference. The Matadors are one game ahead of the Anteaters and will need a crucial victory to push further away from the bottom of the Big West.