Through five games UCSB power forward Alan Williams was near unstoppable, posting averages of 26.8 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocked shots per game for a team that blew out UNLV in Las Vegas last month. Entering Sunday’s game against San Diego, the Gauchos were looking to build on the momentum gained from their home win over Cal last Friday night. Having Williams pick up two quick fouls didn’t help UCSB, but that’s where guard Michael Bryson came into play.
Bryson scored 11 of his game-high 21 points in the first half and Mitch Brewe, who was averaging 2.8 points per game entering Sunday, added seven to help the Gauchos take a four-point lead into the intermission. And in the game’s final 20 minutes Williams had a greater impact on the action, accounting for 11 points and seven rebounds in the Gauchos’ 72-61 win over the Toreros.
Duda Sanadze scored 19 points and Johnny Dee added 18 to lead the Toreros, and big man Dennis Kramer tallied his second consecutive double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Given how much USD struggled rebounding the basketball last season Kramer’s recent play is something to keep track of as the Toreros approach the start of WCC play, and thus far he’s been one of the most improved players in the conference.
But if Bill Grier’s team is to make a charge into the top half of the standings Jito Kok, who was a WCC All-Freshman Team selection last year, has to be more productive than he was against UCSB (zero points, five rebounds). While Kok has increased his scoring average by three points per game (from 3.2 to 6.2), he’s certainly capable of more than what he produced against UCSB and that has to be the case when the Toreros face the cream of the WCC crop.
As for UCSB, the win illustrates what those who follow the program closely have known for some time. While Williams is an incredibly difficult matchup for opponents he’s not the only talented player at Bob Williams’ disposal. Three Gauchos are scoring in double figures, and sophomore forward Taran Brown (9.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg) was the fourth prior to Sunday’s scoreless effort.
The Big West race will be a wide-open affair, with reigning regular season champion Long Beach State going through yet another rigorous non-conference slate and adding UCLA transfer Tyler Lamb next weekend and UC Irvine being the preseason favorite. UCSB will be a contender as well, and Sunday’s effort was a reminder that Williams isn’t the only player on the roster capable of doing the heavy lifting offensively.