UC Santa Barbara falters in second half against Baylor in NCAA tournament

Baylor guard LJ Cryer drives to the rim between UC Santa Barbara guards Calvin Wishart, left, and Josh Pierre-Louis
Baylor guard LJ Cryer drives to the rim between UC Santa Barbara guards Calvin Wishart, left, and Josh Pierre-Louis on March 17 in Denver.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)
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Shortly after the final buzzer blared in Ball Arena on Friday, UC Santa Barbara’s players and coaches made their way across the court to a section of supporters who made the trip to Colorado. They waved, raised their thumbs up and mouthed “thank you” in appreciation as they were met with cheers.

The Gauchos savored the journey that carried them to the highest-profile stage in their sport, but after four months and 27 wins, their historic season was over.

Miles Norris scored 15 points on six-of-eight shooting, but Santa Barbara was unable to keep pace with No. 3 seed Baylor in the second half, getting outscored by 19 points in the final 20 minutes during a 74-56 loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament.


Big West Conference player of the year Ajay Mitchell added 13 points and a team-high four assists for the No. 14 seed Gauchos, who were making their second NCAA tournament appearance in the last three years.

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March 25, 2023

With the South Region loss, UCSB finishes with a 27-8 record, the most wins in a single season in program history. The defeat stopped a seven-game win streak that was the ninth longest in the sport entering the day.

Under coach Joe Pasternack, the Gauchos have won more than 20 games five times in the last six seasons. Their win percentage over that time is the third best among California Division I men’s basketball programs, behind only San Diego State and Saint Mary’s.

“What I told the guys after the game is there’s nothing to hang your heads on,” Pasternack said. “We had a great first half. We ran out of steam in the second half. But they’re going to be connected — we’re all going to be connected — for life because they hung two championship banners, a regular season and a conference tournament championship and broke the all-time wins record by four games. That’s really hard to do in college basketball. We’ll all be connected forever with that record.”

UC Santa Barbara forward Andre Kelly goes up for a basket as Baylor forward Flo Thamba defends.
(John Leyba / Associated Press)

Led by a balanced scoring effort, with seven players scoring at least four points, Santa Barbara carried a 36-35 lead into halftime.


Baylor responded, however, by scoring nine unanswered points over a stretch of 2:26 in the second half to build a seven-point lead. The Gauchos wouldn’t get closer than seven in the final nine minutes, with the Bears’ lead eventually swelling to double digits.

Baylor guard Adam Flagler said coach Scott Drew told the team at halftime to focus on three keys — defense, rebounding and turnovers. The Bears were able to do just that.

After shooting 61.5% in the first half, including 70% inside the three-point arc, UCSB made just 30.4% of its attempts in the second half. The Gauchos came into the matchup seventh among Division I teams in field-goal percentage, at 49.3% for the season. They were forced into eight turnovers in the second half, allowing Baylor to get out in transition, get high-percentage looks and turn the tide of the game.

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March 14, 2023

“I felt like we were together and connected and flying around for one another,” said Flagler, who had a team-high 18 points and five assists. “We know in this tournament, especially in order to win just one game, defense wins games.”

“I think they picked up their pressure and it really bothered us,” Pasternack said.

Against a smaller opponent, Baylor used its depth to wear down Santa Barbara over the course of the game. The Bears got 23 bench points, compared to 14 for the Gauchos.

Given what Santa Barbara has accomplished in recent seasons, players left the tournament with a belief that this season was a next step, not a final one, for the program.


“For the guys coming back, do it again,” said Norris, a senior. “They know what it’s like to be here. They’ve got the experience. I believe in all the young guys.”