Gauchos restart with 71-58 win over Irvine

Coach Bob Williams talked to his players about trying to hit the reset button on the season after the UCSB men’s basketball squad’s 1-2 start in Big West play. The Gauchos — particularly top-scorers James Nunnally and Orlando Johnson — certainly looked refreshed at the Thunderdome on Thursday night in a 71-58 win over visiting UC Irvine.

“We’ve laid a few challenges out to the guys in terms of to restarting our season and getting ourselves out of the gate now and starting to play the way we’re capable,” said Williams. “There’s a lot of expectations on us, and sometimes expectations affect everybody in a different way.”

Nunnally’s expectations in the first half seemed to be that every shot would go in, as he went 4-for-4 from beyond the arc and tallied 18 points before the intermission. Johnson took over after the break, finishing with 17 points in the second half. Each player finished with 22, and it was a particularly crucial restart for Nunnally after a lackluster 5-point performance in a loss at Pacific on Saturday.


“James is affected a little bit when the ball goes through the hoop,” said Williams. “It affects his energy and everything about him, and that’s not unusual for scorers… Orlando’s starting to become a second-half scorer and Nun is a first-half scorer.”

The Gauchos (9-6, 2-2 Big West) defense held Irvine’s second-leading scorer, guard Darren Moore, scoreless in the first half while leading-scorer Patrick Rembert had just two points in the period. The duo finished with seven and nine points, respectively, while forward Eric Wise had a team-high 18 points and 10 boards for the Anteaters (7-10, 1-3). Irvine was held 18 points under its season scoring average.

“I thought we did a pretty good job of keeping their guards in check. When their guards score, they win, but when their bigs have to carry a load they struggle,” noted Williams.

The undersized Anteaters trailed by 11 after Johnson found Nunnally for a rebound in the final half-minute of the first half, but Irvine would climb closer and hang around for much of the second half. A pair of free throws by Rembert with 17:17 left closed the lead to one at 35-34, but UCSB went on a 15-4 run over the next seven minutes to gain some breathing room.

Johnson got the crowd of 3,288 really going when he followed up a 3-pointer with a dunk on a fast break with 11:35 to go. He was a bit boisterous in his celebration directed at an Irvine player, however, and was assessed UCSB’s second technical foul of the game. The other was at the beginning of the half on Will Brew.

“It was more about me just loud and yelling at the guy. I didn’t see him right there… Actually, I lied — I did,” said Johnson with a smile on the quick retraction. “I learned my lesson and that won’t happen again.”

Irvine cut the lead to four at 51-47 with 6:08 remaining, but a big trey by Jordan Weiner sparked the Gauchos enough to put it away for good.

UCSB will try to keep things rolling with a 7 p.m. home game Saturday against UC Riverside.