With a 12-2 run keyed by a hobbling Kendall Youngblood, Utah State took a one-point lead with 2:35 left, its first lead since 2-0, but the Aggies didn't score again until there were only four seconds left.
Their 1990-91 season slipped away in an 80-76 loss to Jerry Pimm's Santa Barbara Gauchos at Long Beach Arena in the first round of the Big West Conference tournament Friday evening.The Gauchos went up 79-73 with a 7-0 run, but Allen Gordon's three-point basket with :04 left kept USU tantalizingly close until Gary Gray made the second of a two-shot foul to solidify Santa Barbara's win.
The Gauchos meet the winner of Friday's UNLV-Long Beach game in tonight's semifinal at 10:30 p.m. MST. Utah State goes home.
"We had the game in a position to make a play that we could win, and we missed a few shots, and they were able to get by us on the other end," said Aggie Coach Kohn Smith, still winless as a head man in this tournament.
Despite miserable rebounding and shooting in the first six minutes of the second half, four quick Jay Goodman baskets started USU in the right direction. The Gauchos went back up by nine, and then Utah State started pecking harder. Youngblood made his first basket since he bruised a knee - and possibly tore cartilage - seven minutes into the game, and that cut the lead to seven, 70-63. A Gordon steal and Randy Funk slam made it five points, and a Youngblood baseline layup and Bryon Ruffner free throws made it one point, 70-69.
Two more Youngblood baskets gave the Aggies a 73-72 lead at 2:35, but they would not score again until :04. Youngblood fouled out with :24 left. He'd had six points in the first six minutes before being hurt.
"It really hurt us when Youngblood got hurt so early," said Smith. Youngblood had, after all, had a career-high 34 points against Santa Barbara last week and was coming off a stint in which he scored 96 points in the three games leading into the tournament. With his 14 Friday night, Youngblood took over 10th place in USU career scoring with 1,295 points with a year left.
Youngblood, with a doctor's permission, returned to the game but limped through much of it until crunch time, when he scored eight points in less than three minutes.
The Gauchos, physically bigger than the Aggies, relied on that point, outrebounding Utah State 41-28 and going to 260-pound Gray in the middle for 19 points. Eleven Gray points came on free throws as the Ags fouled trying to stay with him. Guard Ray Kelly also hurt with a career-high 16 points, including a three-point drive that turned momentum with 2:21 left. He made it 75-73, the Ags made two turnovers, and then Gordon missed a layin with 1:07.
Goodman finished with a game-high 20, including four of six three-pointers, and BWC Freshman of the Year Ruffner had 15 points and six rebounds. Paul Johnson led UCSB with 10 rebounds. The Aggies held Gaucho stalwart Lucious Davis to 11 points.
Utah State completed its season with an 11-17 record. UCSB, which tied USU at 8-10 in conference play for fourth, is 14-14 overall.