MBK: Williams, Bryson lift Gauchos over Cal Poly

ANAHEIM – On Monday, Alan Williams and Michael Bryson became the first UC Santa Barbara duo to be named first team All-Big West in the same season in a dozen years. In the first round of the Big West Tournament on Thursday night at the Honda Center in Anaheim, they showed why.


Williams scored 19 points and collected nine rebounds, while Bryson had 14 points, six rebounds and two huge plays down the stretch to lead the Gauchos (19-12) past Cal Poly (13-16), 54-50, extending their winning streak to six in a row.

UCSB led by as many as eight points in the second half, but the Mustangs closed within two several times in the final minutes. The final time came when Brian Bennett hit a baseline jumper with 1:57 to play to make the score 52-50.

After Cal Poly rebounded a missed jumper by John Green, the teams committed turnovers on three straight possessions. The third turnover in the sequence was by the Gauchos, giving the ball back to the Mustangs with 38 seconds left and still trailing 52-50.

Following a timeout by each team, Cal Poly’s Ridge Shipley shook his defender and got free for a short shot near the basket, but Bryson was there to meet him, blocking Shipley’s shot. Williams gathered the rebound and got the ball back to Bryson who was fouled with nine seconds to play.

Bryson went to the free throw line and made both ends of a 1-and-1 to push the lead to 54-50. The Mustangs got the ball in, but the Gauchos had a foul to give, and did so with four seconds on the clock. Cal Poly’s last shot, a three-point attempt by Reese Morgan, missed and fittingly was rebounded by Bryson.

“We made some really big plays down the stretch,” said UCSB head coach Bob Williams. “They are a tough team to play because they play so hard and physical, but I thought we matched them and had enough in the end to win.”

The team’s played a see-saw first half. The Gauchos taking an early six-point lead but the Mustangs responded to claim a 20-17 with 3:30 to play. UCSB, however, ended the half on 10-2 run to take a 27-22 lead at the break.

“The final three minutes or so of the first half were huge for us,” Coach Williams said. “The first half was a real grind, so to end it like we did gave us some momentum going into the second half and, I don’t think, we were ever behind again.”

Green added 11 points and a team-high three assists. Playing his first postseason game in four years at UCSB because of injuries, he made two of the team’s four three-point baskets and an acrobatic follow-up dunk of a Bryson miss midway through the second half brought the Gauchos’ bench to its feet.

“Man, that was a big play,” Bryson said. “And the celebration was even better. It was great to see John play his first postseason game. He’s had some tough times and he’s always hung in there. That was great to see.”

Although it had 13 turnovers to just eight for Cal Poly, Santa Barbara had an advantage in most other categories, including field goal percentage (46.3% to 37.7%), rebounds (30-27) and free throws (13-of-16 to 6-of-8).

In addition to the six game winning streak, the Gauchos have now won nine of their last 10 and this one gave them a perfect 3-0 mark against the Mustangs this season. It also helped them avenge a first-round tournament loss in 2014 when the teams met the same seeding positions, No. 2 and No. 7.

UCSB will play third-seeded UC Irvine in the second semifinal game on Friday night. The game will tip-off at 9:00 p.m. and will be preceded by a match-up between top-seeded UC Davis and fifth-seeded Hawai’i, which posted a mild upset over No. 4 Long Beach State earlier Thursday.