Devine, Gauchos hold off Cal St. L.A.

There were plenty of fresh faces on the court for the UCSB men’s basketball team in their season-opener at the Thunderdome on Friday night but it was the familar six-year senior Chris Devine who staved off a strong second-half comeback by Cal State Los Angeles and led the Gauchos to a 64-55 victory.

UCSB enjoyed a 39-21 halftime lead and led by as many as 25 in the first half before L.A. started clawing its way back. The Golden Eagles made it to within four at 49-45 before Devine took over, scoring 11 of the Gauchos’ final 15 points to help UCSB capture its season-opening win.

“Their offensive rythym was much better in the second half,” said head coach Bob Williams, which was more of what he was expecting from a team that had almost beaten Syracuse and San Diego already this season.

As season openers go, Williams gave some of his newer players some extended looks and he liked what he saw.

“The folks I was most complimentary of were the pups,” said Williams, referring to this season’s recruiting class which was rated the best in Williams’ 11 years at UCSB.

Freshman center Greg Somogyi and guard Will Brew saw limited time in their Gaucho debuts, but fellow freshman Jaime Serna, a 6-foot-8 forward out of Santa Margarita High, saw extended minutes while playing the most of any non-starter.

“He’s strong and he’s tough and he’s really good defensively,” described Williams. “He’s getting better every day.”

In 21 minutes, Serna scored only four points but had seven rebounds and provided tons of energy inside. Brew and Somogyi saw less minutes but were able to leave positive impressions. Brew’s first collegiate points came on a nice tear-drop through the lane that he followed with a three-pointer. Somogyi managed to block two shots, grab two rebounds and throw down a dunk in just six minutes of court time.

Williams said starter Jesse Byrd, a 6-foot-8 transfer from University of San Francisco, is still getting his legs back underneath him after sitting out all of last year because of transfer rules.

Earlier on Friday, the Gauchos announced the centerpieces of next year’s recruiting class – one that ranks as high or higher than the current one. Will Brew’s younger brother, Chris, and 6-foot-9 post player Lucas Devenny are expected to be big-time players for UCSB in the years to come.

Friday night’s game was the first of a three game homestand that includes former Big West Conference rival Utah State and the nation’s No. 1 team in North Carolina to start the season.

“How often do you get to play two really good teams like that?” asked Devine rhetorically, saying that the stiff competition can only help the Gauchos.

Devine had 17 points total on 6-for-9 shooting with 11 rebounds. James Powell was the only other Gaucho in double figures with 16. The junior guard had an off-night, however, needing 15 shots to make it there. Powell’s one highlight was a 28-foot pull-up three-pointer that was the end of a 14-0 UCSB run that put the Gauchos up 20-5 early.

Cal State L.A.’s Christofer Hart led the Golden Eagles with 21 points, 17 of those coming in the second half. Hart and Artis Gant scored the first seven points of the period and the Golden Eagles were able to cut it to eight by the ten-minute mark.

When it got to four, Devine went to work and the Gauchos can now think about Utah State and North Carolina.