Jesse Summers & Ashley DeVriend
[follow id = “CPMustangSports”] [follow id = “ashleydevriend”]
Despite coming off a tough overtime road win at Hawaii in its first Big West Conference game of the year, the Cal Poly Men’s basketball team was unable to snag their second consecutive victory against rival UC Santa Barbara, falling 45-50 on Saturday night.
Cal Poly led UC Santa Barbara for most of the game by containing Gaucho big man and three-time Player of the Week Alan Williams.
Williams, who leads UC Santa Barbara in points and rebounds, got into foul trouble early in the second half, allowing Cal Poly to penetrate the middle and get closer looks — especially senior forward Brian Bennett, who exerted most of his energy in the first half to containing him.
“Our team’s mindset was to be physical with (Williams),” Bennett said. “A lot of us are returners on the team and we remember how physical we played against him in the tournament and we wanted to come out and do the same thing. Mostly to just get him out of his comfort zone.”
Bennett would later be able to find his groove and finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.
“I think Brian’s aggressiveness on the block has been real good,” head coach Joe Callero said. “We just also needed some kind of contribution off of the bench.”
Besides Bennett, the only other Mustang who seemed capable of knocking down a shot was junior forward Joel Awich, who finished with 13 points. A combined 23 between those two was more than the rest of the team combined.
“It would’ve been an oddity to win, due to how we shot,” Callero said. “We couldn’t buy a basket.”
The Gauchos led a mid-second-half surge, scoring seven unanswered points before the start of the final four minutes. With around three minutes remaining, the Gauchos found a rhythm behind the arc, one the Mustangs were unable to bounce back from.
With a complete 16-point swing, UC Santa Barbara took control of the final minutes and captured its first regular season victory.
Nwaba, who is averaging double-digit points on the year, was unable to contribute in his normal fashion tonight, shooting just 1-of-7 from the field.
“Teams have been scouting me much better,” Nwaba explained. “I need to be more aggressive and try to see what I can find, especially when they come at us with a zone. It just means to get back in the gym and put up some more shots.”
With a volleyball-style set of tip ins and outs from three of Cal Poly’s inside players with less than 20 seconds remaining, the Mustangs saw their shot at victory quickly tipped away.
“What it comes down to is that Wednesday at Hawaii was a victory and tonight was a loss,” Callero said. “It hurts to do it in front of a 3,000-plus crowd, but tomorrow morning it’s over and my job as a coach is to help prepare and move forward.”
The Mustangs will head down to face Long Beach State on Thursday, Jan. 15 at 7 p.m., the projected No. 1 seed in the Big West. The game will be featured on ESPN3.