Written by Student Assistant Christian Bond
SANTA CRUZ, Calif. – The Pacific Lutheran University men's basketball team was unable to keep pace with host University of California Santa Cruz on Monday afternoon to close out the UCSC Holiday Classic, stumbling 81-70 in a contest featuring eight ties and six lead changes. The Banana Slugs controlled the boards and made just enough shots to secure the win in the Lutes' final non-conference contest of the season.
The Banana Slugs (5-7) outrebounded the Lutes 40-27 while owning a 31-10 edge in bench points. The Lutes (5-6) played solid defense, forcing 13 turnovers while grabbing six steals but the difference came in each teams shooting performance. The Banana Slugs shot 53.6 percent (30-for-56) from the floor to the Lutes 41.8 percent (23-for-55) from the field.
"We played very hard but failed to box out and second chance points hurt us," Steve Dickerson said. "It was the best sustained basketball we have played all year. We will take a little break and get back after it."
PLU rushed out to a 15-8 lead on a Brandon Lester layup with 12:21 remaining in the opening half and owned a 38-35 lead at the halftime intermission. The Banana Slugs slowly crept back into the game tying the contest at 50 with 13:32 remaining in the game before taking the lead for good on an Andrew Jones three with 12:33 left.
Kyle Sawtell got the start for the Lutes and made the most of his opportunity. He led the team with 21 points, shooting seven-for-12 from the field including a six-for-nine performance from three point land. Sawtell additionally grabbed five rebounds and dished out three assists.
"I got a few to drop early which helped my confidence and my teammates kept getting me the ball in rhythm so I could keep knocking down shots," Sawtell said. "We were moving the ball around well and were getting the open looks we wanted. We will bounce back after break and make sure we are ready for league to resume."
Brandon Lester scored 17 points while also dishing out three assists. Jared Christy scored 14 points, 10 of those points coming from the free throw line. He also grabbed eight rebounds.
The PLU bench scored ten points against the Banana Slugs with Tyson Birrer accounting for eight of those points while hoarding three rebounds.
The Lutes return to action on Jan. 6, hosting George Fox University at 8 p.m. inside Olson Gymnasium.