The way UCI (13-9, 4-2 in conference) played against the Gauchos (13-6, 4-2), and with four road games in their next six, the Anteaters may not have to worry about first place for long.
"I believe in the game of basketball, you get what you deserve and I'm not very happy with our team tonight," UCI Coach Russell Turner said after his team fell behind, 17-2, en route to its second straight loss. "We never looked very into this game. Luke Nelson [who had a career-high 26 points] fought a little bit offensively, but I thought the rest of us were defeated tonight. I give Santa Barbara credit for really sticking it to us."
UCI was without 6-foot-8 junior Will Davis, who remained in Irvine to receive treatment for a back problem that has been plaguing him for weeks. Turner said Davis, the Big West Defensive Player of the Year last season who leads the 'Eaters in rebounding (6.9 per game) and entered the week as the second-leading scorer (11.4 per contest), is questionable for Saturday.
"When we were without Will and Mamadou [Ndiaye] at UC Riverside, we had everybody ready [in a 72-52 conference road win on Jan. 11]," Turner said. "I don't think we had everybody fully ready and engaged tonight and I'm not sure how that happens."
Nelson, a freshman guard, netted 18 second-half points and hit four of his six three-pointers after intermission. He finished nine for 21 from the field and six of 15 from beyond the arc. The six threes are a career high.
But the remaining four starters were just five for 19 from the field (26.3%) as UCI shot 35.7% for the game (20 for 56), third worst this season, including nine for 29 from threedom (31%).
Senior Chris McNealy had 10 points and his five rebounds matched John Ryan, who started in place of Davis, and Ndiaye for team-high honors.