SANTA CRUZ, CA—The Slugs took to the road their 11-11 record as they embarked on their three-game road trip to conclude the season. The first stop of this trip included a visit to neighboring Southern California where UCSC squared off against Occidental College on Feb. 13, 2015. The Slugs are coming off an emotional victory after defeating UC Merced 70-62 in their last home game of the 2014-15 season. A game in which they not only tied a school record for most wins in a single season, but also giving the seniors one last victory on their home court before biding them farewell.
A win today would set a new school record for most wins in a single season and it was a goal Santa Cruz was poised to accomplish. The Slugs rode their strong start to a 38-30 lead at halftime. They didn’t look back from there as they cruised to a 77-60 rout over the Tigers. Despite the negative connotations associated with Friday the 13th, the Slugs where in no need of luck as today's victory pushes their winning streak to five. It also brings their record to 12-11, marking the first time the Slugs own a winning record this season.
The contest got off to a close start; both teams were neck-to-neck with a score of 17-17 with 11:17 left in the first half. It was difficult for either team to create separation as they battled back and forth. A key moment for Santa Cruz was Tyler Berkness hitting a three-pointer to give the Slugs a 28-23 lead with 5:16 remaining. It fueled UCSC’s drive as they closed the first quarter on an 8-2 scoring run, giving them the 38-30 lead at the half. Despite the similarity in the stats, it was the Slugs strong defense that forced 14 first half turnovers that aided them in attaining the halftime lead.
The second half was no different as the Slugs hot-shooting set the tone for a dominating finish. Santa Cruz was able to push their lead to ten after Jared Ponce’s layup with 14:04 reaming. The Slugs were in total control after that bucket. They stretched their lead even further to a defect of 18 with a score of 66-48 after an additional Berkness triple. The Slugs strong effort on the court carried them to a 39-30 second half score. James Townsend finished with a game high 17 points and 3 steals to go along with his 7 rebounds. Berkness provided a spark of the bench with his double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds to help the Slugs secure the win.
A key to today’s victory was UCSC defense once again. The Slugs played stout defense forcing 21 turnovers for the game. They were also able to hold the Tigers to 32.1% shooting percentage (17-53 from the field) while shooting nearly 43 % themselves going (27-63) from the field. In addition to the Slugs great shooting performance, Santa Cruz also bullied their way in the paint. UCSC scored 34 points inside the box compared to Occidental’s 18 points total. It was an easy night at the rim for the players as they controlled their way inside with ease. The Slugs also received a huge left from their bench as they scored 34 points throughout the game compared to their opponents 22. It marks the 10th time in the last 12th games the Slugs have outscored their opponents bench. The surge in UCSC’s offense lead to an accumulation of 15 assist while Occidental had a hard time dealing with Santa Cruz defense, stocking a total of 9 dimes themselves for the game.
Today’s victory brings the Slugs record to 12-11 for the season and increases their winning streak to five. The 12 victories also set a new school record for most wins in a single season. For a team compiled of majority underclassmen, it is a huge accomplishment considering the team went through “growing pains” when they won a total of four games last season. Santa Cruz has an opportunity to add to that record as they head up to Texas to finish up the season. A place where they hope to solidify Slug history because a victory would mean UCSC will finish the season with a winning record. It will be difficult challenge as they face Southwestern (Tex.) University on Feb. 21, 2015 and stay in Texas to play against Austin the following day.
By Javier Gutierrez (UC Santa Cruz, 2015)
*All stats acquired from Goslugs.com