Johnson sets scoring record, Gauchos cruise past Cal Poly

The UCSB bench erupts after a 3-pointer by Orlando Johnson. (Vince Agapito Photos)

National media, UCSB’s biggest rival and the Gauchos’ all-time leading scorer were all present at the Thunderdome on Saturday night.

Orlando Johnson surpassed Alex Harris to become the all time scoring leader for UCSB.

UCSB defeated Cal Poly 68-60 in a Big West matchup that was broadcast on ESPNU.

Early in the first half, Orlando Johnson drained a three-pointer and passed Alex Harris to become the top scorer in Gauchos’ history with 1,710 points.

“It just shows the hard work that I’ve put in, and also the confidence that coach has had in me to give me the ball in situations where I have been successful in the last three years,” Johnson said about his accomplishment.

The senior started his collegiate career at Loyola Marymount and transfered to UCSB after his freshman year. In three seasons with the Gauchos, he has won the Big West Player of the Year once (2009-10), and won the conference title twice (2009-10, 2010-11). He had his sights on his most recent accomplishment from the moment he arrived in Santa Barbara.

“When I sat down in [the coaches’] office four years ago and I looked at the record and it was almost 1,700 points, I told coach I could break that in three years,” Johnson said. “Now that it actually happened, it feels pretty special.”

With the victory, UCSB improved to 16-9 on the season and moved into a tie for second place in the Big West after Cal State Fullerton was upset by UC Davis earlier on Saturday. Both Fullerton and Santa Barbara are now 10-4 in conference play.

The Gauchos never trailed and opened the game with a 7-2 run.

James Nunnally had 14 first-half points and finished with 20, connecting on eight of his 13 shots from the field. He is now just 11 points from moving into fifth on the UCSB’s all-time scoring list. Johnson and Nunnally have formed one of the great duos in the school’s history.

“We just have this vibe. We look for each other,” Nunnally said about his on-court chemistry with Johnson, his freshman roommate.  “I dont know, it just comes. It’s probably that year we lived together.”

Cal Poly (15-14, 6-8) climbed back in the game by crashing the offensive glass and getting easy second-chance points. The Mustangs had 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, while the Gauchos only had two.

“I thought in the first half they absolutely dominated us on the boards,” head coach Bob Williams said.

Will Taylor led the Mustangs’ rebounding efforts, with four offensive boards in the half and two put-back layups.

UCSB led by as many as 16 points, but the visitors closed the lead to 41-30 by halftime.

After the break, Alan Williams and Jaime Serna re-established the Gauchos presence in the paint. The two combined for just three rebounds in the first half, but Serna finished with five boards, and Williams grabbed nine.

“I really was happy with the second-half rebounding efforts of Jaime and Al,” Williams said. “I thought [they] really took over the inside physically in the second half.”

While the Gauchos were able to regain the edge in the key, mistakes kept Cal Poly in the game.

With 11:19 remaining, Johnson stole the ball and dunked after a fast break to put his team up by 15. He then hung on the rim and was called for technical foul. The two ensuing free throws and a three-point shot by Kyle Odister led to a five-point swing for the Mustangs.

“It’s how we’ve been with leads late in games,” Williams said. “We don’t put our foot on the throat very well.”

Despite Poly’s late surge, the Gauchos held on for a convincing victory on a historic night.

UCSB will finish the season at home with conference games against Pacific on Thursday and UC Davis on Saturday. The Big West Tournament starts on March 8.