It would have been really hard to explain how the Cal Poly men’s basketball team beat UC Santa Barbara on Saturday night.
Midway through the first half, the Mustangs were shooting 17.6 percent from the floor. They finished the game a little better overall, but the 23.4 percent was still easily the poorest shooting night of the season by a wide margin. They were also 4 of 22 from 3-point range.
Still, Cal Poly had a 10-point lead on archrival UC Santa Barbara with less than 7:30 left in the game. The Gauchos needed a 13-0 run to take the lead for good and stun a sellout Mott Athletics Center crowd in the final two minutes of a 50-45 win.
In those five minutes where UC Santa Barbara stormed ahead, the game went from Ripley’s Believe It or Not to just desserts.
“It would be an oddity,” Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero said, recalling a similar situation in Wednesday’s overtime victory at Hawaii where guard Reese Morgan hit three late 3-pointers, including the game-winner after starting the night 0 for 6 from the floor.
“The game against Hawaii the other night, we looked at that game statistically and asked how could we possibly win that game,” Callero said, “and it was amazing
because it was a gritty and gutty, had-to-make-a-shot-sooner-or-later kind of game.”
On Saturday, however, Callero said, “We couldn’t buy a basket.”
Cal Poly (8-6, 1-1 Big West Conference) came into the game shooting 39.8 percent. The only other time the Mustangs shot under 30 percent in a game was a 63-57 loss at Fresno State in mid-December where they made 29.8 percent from the floor.
Other than the poor shooting, Cal Poly had checked off all the other boxes in pursuit of a victory over UC Santa Barbara (8-7, 1-0 Big West), which came in looking to even the score after getting blown away by the Mustangs in last season’s Big West Tournament.
On Saturday, Cal Poly was successful in keeping Gauchos star big man Alan Williams out of the offensive picture.
Williams, a national award candidate, grabbed 15 rebounds but was 4 of 11 from the floor for nine points. He went through the first half without a foul, but Cal Poly went right at him in the second, drawing four fouls on Williams in the first seven minutes.
Gabe Vincent had a game-high 15 points, including one of the four 3-pointers the Gauchos had during the 13-0 run to take the lead.
Williams came into the game averaging 18.6 points, but the foul trouble ushered him to the sideline, where he really did not factor much in the comeback or its conclusion.
“The mindset was just being physical with him,” junior center Brian Bennett said. “A lot of us are returners on the team, and we remember how we played physical against him in the tournament, and we wanted to come out and do the exact same thing. And it got him out of his game a little bit, got them to not looking in to him as much.”
Cal Poly also dominated the offensive glass. The Mustangs had 20 offensive rebounds to just 10 for the Gauchos, but in the end, it didn’t serve them all that well.
Cal Poly had a chance to cut UC Santa Barbara’s lead to two when Maliik Love got a steal under his own basket with 15 seconds left, but Love could not convert the basket, and the two successive putback attempts also missed the mark.
For all of their offensive rebounds, Cal Poly only held an 8-7 advantage in second-chance points.
“When we had an 8- to 10-point lead,” Callero said, “and we had a couple putback opportunities to maybe stretch it out to 12 or 14, create a little bit more breathing room, we never capitalized on that, and that allowed them to chip it down, make a shot, and all of a sudden now the pressure of the game kind of changed around. They’re shooting loose, and we were tight when we had those opportunities.”
unior forward Joel Awich had a team-high 13 points for Cal Poly, tying his career high. Bennett had 10 points and 10 rebounds for his second career double-double. The first came in his first collegiate game as a true freshman against TCU in the 2012 season-opener.
Mustangs leading scorer David Nwaba had six points on 2 of 9 from the field and was held under double digits for just the second time this season. The first was Wednesday’s Big West opener against Hawaii.
Nwaba, who came into the game averaging more than 14 points, said the conference teams are scouting his tendencies much better than the nonconference opponents did.
“It just means I need to get back in the gym and get up some more shots,” Nwaba said.
Cal Poly also needs others to pick up the slack when the defense is limiting Nwaba. In previous games, that has come from Morgan and fellow shooting guard Michael Bolden.
The duo combined to shoot 0 for 10 from 3-point range Saturday.
“Those are our two guards that are really going to be able to have to knock down some shots for us,” Callero said. “It was one of those nights where we were 0 for 10 from our two-guard spot, and half of those were great, clean rhythm looks.
“The issue is always constantly the chess match, and it kind of goes on throughout the season. We put guys in different positions. We may put David on the block or in the high post.”