Gauchos pull away from Pacific in Big West Tourney opener

ANAHEIM — UCSB ended the first half on a 13-3 run and began the second with an 8-0 surge to blow open a close game en route to a 72-52 win over Pacific in a quarterfinal contest in the Big West Tournament at the Honda Center on Thursday.

The two-time defending champion Gauchos (19-9) led just 30-26 after the Tigers’ (11-19) Lorenzo McCloud made back-to-back 3-point baskets, the second coming with 4:16 to play in the first half. But led by James Nunnally and Keegan Hornbuckle who scored five points apiece, UCSB closed the half with a 13-3 stretch to take a 43-29 halftime lead.

“That was very important, the way we responded to McCloud making those back-to-back threes,” said head coach Bob Williams. “That, and the way we opened the second half, really decided the game.”

T.J. Taylor started things in the second half with a 16-foot jumper from the right corner. After Jaimé Serna made one of two free throws, Orlando Johnson hit a pair of his own and then a three-pointer with 17:56 to play, pushing the Gaucho lead to 51-29.

Travis Fulton made a layup to stop the UCSB run, but the lead ultimately expanded to 29 twice, the final time at 67-38 on a three-pointer by Nate Garth with 7:26 left in the game. Pacific never got closer than the final margin, 72-52.

Johnson, who scored just two points in the first half, had 13 in the second half and finished with a team-high 15 to lead a balanced attack. Kyle Boswell sparked the big first half rally, making all three of his three-point attempts, and finished with 12. Nunnally had 11 while Serna, Hornbuckle and Taylor each added seven.

UCSB committed a season-low six turnovers and shot 45.6% for the game, 53.3% in the first half. The Gauchos also made 10 three-pointers, three apiece by Boswell and Nunnally. They also limited the Tigers to 38.9% from the field and forced 16 turnovers.

“To have just six turnovers on a stage like that, in a game like that, is very impressive,” Williams said. “We obviously took very good care of the basketball and that was one of the biggest differences in the game.”

UCSB has now won four straight games this season and six straight in the Big West Tournament dating back to 2010. The Gauchos will play in the semifinals on Friday night at Honda Center, most likely at 9 p.m. If the seeds hold, they would play Cal State Fullerton.