UC Santa Barbara didn't just survive a comeback by UC Davis in their Big West Conference men's semifinal, it endured a revival.
The Aggies turned a first-half laugher into a second-half nail-biter that wasn't put to rest until former Glendora High standout James Powell slammed the door on the 76-62 victory by Santa Barbara at the Anaheim Convention Center.
Powell, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, scored a season-high 22 points off the bench, including 10 straight during a 1 minute 52 second span down the stretch. His scoring spree is the main reason the top-seeded Gauchos (19-9) are moving on to the championship game for only the second time since they joined the Big West in 1985.
"He changed the momentum of the game and got us back," said Santa Barbara Coach Bob Williams. "We were really on our heels."
Davis began the game without one its key players, as junior point guard Mark Payne was in street clothes with his left arm in a sling after reinjuring his shoulder during Thursday's second-round victory against Cal State Fullerton. Payne had the fifth-highest scoring average in the conference (16.3), was second in assists and first in steals and field-goal percentage.
His absence was felt immediately, as the fourth-seeded Aggies (14-18) turned the ball over on their first four possessions and missed 14 of their first 15 shots. By the end of the first half, they trailed, 31-11, missing the lowest-scoring half in conference history by three points.
The Aggies collected themselves after they were challenged by Coach Gary Stewart at halftime, and they began the second half with a 24-9 run to cut the deficit to five with 11:07 remaining. Davis stayed within five until Powell began his 10-point run with a three-pointer with 6:11 remaining. By the time he was done, the Gauchos had pushed the lead back to 58-45 with 4:19 left.
During that stretch, he sank his 217th three-pointer at Santa Barbara, tying the school record set by Mark Hull in 2003.
Powell, who once made 12 of 18 three-pointers and scored 53 points in a game while at Glendora, was low-key as usual after the performance. He said he just tried to remain positive.
"If you start thinking about losing the game, that's what's going to happen," he said.
Joe Harden scored 20 points to lead Davis and Dominic Calegari had 18, including 17 in the second half.