Santa Barbara’s picturesque, just not for the Cal Bears

UCSB’s junior guard Zalmico Harmon dished out 10 assists for the Gauchos on Friday night. (Presidio Sports Photos)
UCSB’s junior guard Zalmico Harmon dished out 10 assists for the Gauchos on Friday night. (Presidio Sports Photos)

By Morris Phillips

In the last 30 years, UCLA has agreed to play in the gym of one of the other nine Division I basketball programs scattered across the greater Los Angeles area just four times.  In 1988, the Bruins ventured down the San Diego Freeway to help UC Irvine open their just built Bren Center and went home losers.

They haven’t been back since.

Mike Montgomery’s probably had dinner in Moraga more times than he’s agreed to bring one of his Stanford or California teams to play the St. Mary’s Gaels in their gym (once).  The Cal Bears hadn’t brought one of their basketball teams to beautiful Santa Barbara in 34 seasons. Kentucky plays at Western Kentucky?  Forget it.

There’s a reason for all of this: basketball coaches shrewdly avoid playing in places that are nearby, where an upset is a possibility, and a win for the little guy could make headlines that local, recruitable athletes would undoubtedly notice.

Montgomery knows better; he’s been smartly crafting who his teams play for years.  But the state is struggling financially, so UC schools have been encouraged to play each other more frequently to keep all the money in the system.

Well, in part due to all of that Cal became the first Pac-12 team to venture into the Thunderdome in 11 years and the improving Gauchos and leading scorer Alan Williams were ready.  Williams had 24 points and 12 rebounds, and UCSB pulled away from Cal in the second half to win, 72-65.

“We’ve been so close to breaking through with a big home win in the past and just couldn’t get over the humps, so this was pretty special,” UCSB Coach Bob Williams said.

The Gauchos defeated the Bears for the first time after 10 previous defeats in the series between the two schools.

The Bears’ defense again wilted in the second half allowing the Gauchos to shoot 59 percent and score 45 points.  Meanwhile, the Bears were struggling, shooting just 36 percent for the game and unable to answer UCSB’s firepower down the stretch.

Freshman Jordan Mathews led the Bears with a career-best 22 points.  Justin Cobbs chipped in 13, and David Kravish had 12.

The Bears used a rally to grab the lead, 28-27, at halftime, but UCSB surged in the second half, and hit four big free throws down the stretch to clinch it.

The Bears fell to 6-3 on the season with Nevada up next at Haas Pavilion on Tuesday.