Against UC Irvine on Saturday, the Gauchos showed who should be the favorite in the conference tournament. Nick Jones scored all of his 16 points in the first half as Santa Barbara built a 20-point lead and cruised past Irvine, 67-51, to take over the Big West lead before 5,016 at the Thunderdome.
The Gauchos, 15-12 overall and 12-4 in the Big West, ended Irvine's seven-game winning streak and took a half-game lead. Santa Barbara, which won both meetings with Irvine, plays at Cal State Fullerton and UC Riverside next week while the Anteaters (18-8, 12-5) end the regular season at home against Long Beach State.
Santa Barbara won each meeting by 16 points.
"All we're trying to do is win this thing and get ourselves a No. 1 seed," Santa Barbara Coach Bob Williams said. "If the favorite label comes with that, so be it."
The Anteaters picked the worst time to have a season-low offensive performance. They missed their first eight shots and 15 of their first 17 as Gaucho defenders locked up Irvine's top offensive threats. For the game, Irvine shot 29.8%.
By the time Irvine righted itself, Santa Barbara built a 17-4 lead. Jordan Harris scored seven of his 15 points over a 3:43 span to help pull the Anteaters within 24-16, but their poor shooting cropped up again to end the half.
Jones, who made six of seven shots in 13 first-half minutes, added five more points in a 14-2 run that pushed the Gaucho lead to 38-18 at intermission. The junior guard also had six rebounds and two steals for the game.
San Francisco 90, Pepperdine 82 -- John Cox, cousin of Laker guard Kobe Bryant, scored 23 points to help the Dons (14-13, 9-5) secure third place in the West Coast Conference before 1,367 at Firestone Fieldhouse in Malibu.
Pepperdine (15-12, 7-7) finished fourth and earned the final first-round bye in the conference tournament at San Diego. The Waves will play in the quarterfinals Saturday against the winner of Friday's first-round game between St. Mary's and Santa Clara.
Cox, a junior guard, scored 16 points in the second half, when San Francisco consistently thwarted Pepperdine's comeback attempts by exploiting a porous defense.
After shooting 60% from the field in the first half, the Dons finished 31 of 57 (54.4%) and made 20 of 21 free throws.
"We couldn't guard nobody," Pepperdine forward Jimmy Miggins said. "Every time we needed a big stop, we didn't make it. They hit every shot."
Terrance Johnson led Pepperdine with 24 points, but he went without a field goal for more than 13 minutes before making a meaningless three-point basket in the waning seconds.
St. Mary's 67, Loyola Marymount 62 -- Charles Brown finished with a game-high 19 points for Loyola Marymount, but St. Mary's clinched the No. 5 seeding in the upcoming WCC tournament in the regular-season finale in front of 1,254 at Gersten Pavilion.
Loyola (10-19, 4-10) lost its fourth in a row and will be seeded sixth.
St. Mary's (13-14, 6-8) converted five free throws in the last 25.9 seconds to hold off Loyola despite Brown's efforts and 10 points each by Brandon Worthy and Sherman Gay. Frederic Adjiwanou had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Gaels.
CS Northridge 70, CS Fullerton 62 -- Curtis Slaughter scored 18 points for the Matadors before 1,249 at Northridge.
Slaughter, one of three seniors playing in their final home game for Cal State Northridge (13-13, 7-9 Big West), made four of six three-pointers.
After falling behind by as many as 17 in the second half, the Titans (9-17, 7-9) pulled within seven with two minutes left but would get no closer.