Serna picks up slack in UCSB victory

UCSB's Jaime Serna looks for a feed on the post from James Nunnally.

Jaime Serna sat out the last time UC Riverside and UCSB met on the basketball court, with the Highlanders coming away with an overtime victory.

In Saturday’s second meeting between the two teams, Serna made his presence felt with 19 points and nine rebounds to lead UCSB past Riverside 60-52 in a Big West Conference game at the Thunderdome.

Serna connected on seven of his 10 field goal attempts while the rest of the Gauchos combined to shoot 13-of-47.

Freshman Alan Williams started his tenth-straight game and contributed five points and seven rebounds.

“In a game like that, 19 and 9 are huge numbers,” said UCSB head coach Bob Williams.

UCSB trailed by as many as 11 early in the second half before turning it around. From that point on, the Gauchos outscored Riverside 37-18.

“We just had to just keep grinding; we knew they would let us back into the game,” said UCSB forward James Nunnally. “They’re a good team; we felt like we had to out-physical them.”

Serna was a big part of that. Not only did the senior post player lead UCSB in rebounding and scoring, but he provided energy when the rest of the Gauchos were struggling.

“I’m an emotional player,” Serna said.

In his last five games, Serna has averaged 13.4 points per game – well above his season average. UCSB is 4-1 during that stretch.

Nunnally and Serna combined to shoot 60 percent from the field while the rest of the Gauchos converted only 8-of-37 attempts. This after UCSB had averaged over 79 points a game as a team in its last four contests.

The Gauchos picked it up on the defensive end to make up for the sudden offensive issues.

“We did a better job of fighting them in the second half,” Williams said.

Riverside managed to score 22 points in the second half after taking a 30-23 lead into the halftime break.

Phil Martin led the Highlanders with 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting. Robert Smith and Elliott Berry each added 11 for a team that tallied more turnovers (15) than assists (8).

The Big West Conference’s leading scorer Orlando Johnson had an off night and finished with 12 points.

Nunnally’s 15 points pushed him over the 1,500-point plateau for his UCSB career. Nunnally became on the sixth Gaucho player to reach that milestone. The senior is 75 points away from passing Mark Hull on the all-time UCSB scoring list.

UCSB now hits the road again for three straight road games before returning to the Thunderdome to close out the regular season with three in a row at home. Next week brings a Big West game at UC Irvine on Wednesday followed by an ESPN Brackbusters game on Saturday at Utah State.

The Gauchos are presently tied for second place in conference with Cal State Fullerton at 8-3. UC Riverside falls to 5-7.