Cameron Dollar could have scheduled it differently. With his team’s Western Athletic Conference opener looming on Saturday, the Seattle University head coach could have had his team play a game against a lesser opponent, guaranteeing an easy win.
Instead, he had his team get a taste of what it will be like playing against the upper level teams in the WAC on Monday night at KeyArena.
Stymied by a quirky and aggressive 3-2 zone defense and unable to generate any offense until it was far too late, the Redhawks dropped their final nonconference game of the season, 86-70, to the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos.
After a five-game winning streak in December, Seattle U (8-5) dropped its last two games and will host Missouri-Kansas City on Saturday at KeyArena to open WAC play.
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The loss to the Gauchos (8-4), who were picked to finish second in the Big West and have wins over California and UNLV this season, was a strong reminder for the Redhawks that the season only gets more difficult.
“It just shows you your strengths and weaknesses,” Dollar said. “Obviously, we didn’t play well enough to compete and win. But you need to see that. You need to see where you are at, what you can do and what you can’t do. So you can be ready for conference.”
The Redhawks (8-5) could never recover from an out of sync first half, in which they shot just 20 percent (5-of-25) from the field, including 2 of 16 from three-point range, while committing nine turnovers.
“They were physical and just bodied us up whenever we caught the ball,” Dollar said. “We spook ourselves when we aren’t hitting shots.”
A good reason for the shooting struggles was the Gauchos’ confusing zone defense that wouldn’t allow open shots anywhere except from deep in the corner – shots that Seattle U guards didn’t knock down.
“You saw it, I thought those were good looks,” Dollar said. “We didn’t do as good of job rebounding as we needed to do either. You are going to miss some, but you have to get some second-chance points.”
While SU players couldn’t make the few open shots they were getting, UCSB was efficient offensively, putting together a 19-2 run late in the first half to stretch a one-point lead into a 28-10 cushion. Reserve guard Kyle Boswell came off the bench and knocked down three three-pointers in the run, finishing the half with 13 points.
The Gauchos stretched the lead to as much as 24 points in the second half before Seattle U finally started knocking down shots from the outside. After being held to five points in the first half, Redhawks’ leading scorer Isiah Umipig came alive burying three three-pointers in a mini-run that cut the lead to 17 points. The lead was whittled to 14 on a three-pointer from Emerson Murray, but Seattle U got no closer.
“We were standing around not moving the ball early on,” Umipig said. “We started making shots, but we didn’t do it consistently enough.”
UCSB’s steady point guard, Zalmico Harmon, made sure the Gauchos handled the Redhawks’ full-court pressure and got the ball in the hands of their best player in the second half. Center Alan Williams abused Seattle U inside with an assortment of moves, scoring baskets, drawing fouls and going to the free-throw line. The 6-foot-7, 280-pound senior scored 19 points in the second half, finishing with 27 points and eight rebounds. He was 8 for 14 from the field and 11 of 13 from the free-throw line.
“I thought when we were able to play him straight up, we did a good job,” Dollar said. “But he got a lot of his points at the free-throw line.
Umipig led the Redhawks with 24 points. After missing much of the nonconference season with a foot injury, Murray had his best outing so far in just his fifth game. The transfer guard scored all 20 of his points in the second half, including five three-pointers.
“I feel good,” Murray said. “There’s no pain. It’s just matter of doing the little things.”
Boswell finished with 19 points, including five three-pointers. Harmon added 13 points and five assists.
Former Seattle Prep standout Mitch Brewe started for UCSB and scored six points and grabbed four rebounds.
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @RyanDivish