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Dissecting a thriller: How Seattle did the impossible against UC Santa Barbara

Down 20 late? Just stay calm and carry on.

NCAA Basketball: WAC Conference Tournament-New Mexico vs Seattle
Cameron Dollar had to be all smiles late against UCSB.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Teams don’t win these games.

Not when they’re down 20 with the under eight media timeout looming. And especially not when they’re on the road.

That’s just where Seattle found itself against UC Santa Barbara last Friday night, as the Redhawks gazed up at a 69-49 deficit with 9:37 left. Things looked dire.

But they bucked conventional wisdom, and rallied for an 80-76 win. According to their coach, the comeback began with the little things.

“More than anything else we had been talking the entire night about being consistent and focusing on the details,” Cameron Dollar said in a phone interview. “A lot of times when things aren’t going your way, you can underappreciate getting back on defense, contesting shots, putting a body on a guy and just really being consistent doing those things over and over.”

Those little things helped the Redhawks freeze a UC Santa Barbara offense that was red-hot, especially from deep, over the first 30 minutes. The Gauchos missed 12 of their final 14 shots, and longtime coach Bob Williams talked about the collapse after the game.

"We made 9-of-10 threes in the first half and were feeling pretty good about ourselves," said [Williams]. "In the second half, we took too many and a lot of them were too early and too deep. We did not play mature tonight. It's hard to win Division I games and you can't make it harder on yourself like we did in the last 10 minutes tonight.”

A frantic defensive effort, aided by some poor shot selection, is part of the “from the brink” comeback recipe. So is getting some magic on the other side of the ball. The Redhawks got that from Brendan Westendorf.

That sequence included a personal 11-0 run by the senior guard, who connected on his final four three-point attempts and finished with 28 points.

“[Brendan] hasn’t shot it up to his normal standard. The shots he has missed, many have literally been right there,” Dollar said. “Finding his rhythm and mojo was very timely, and he found it at UC Santa Barbara.”

Comebacks like this don’t happen often. For Seattle, was it a singular, exciting moment, or proof that the team can creep up in a WAC that looks top-heavy?

Dollar thinks his team - which has gone to back-to-back CBI’s - is close.

“I want to see us go battle, I think we’re right there,” he said. “Coming into the year we were right there with a chance to be at the top. Now’s our chance, let’s go battle.”

There’s plenty of reason to peg the Redhawks in the dark horse role. Westendorf, the reigning WAC Player of the Week, can be dynamic, and 7’3’’ sophomore Aaron Menzies (12.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG) - who Dollar says is very much still developing - has taken a leap forward in his sophomore season.

The Redhawks open WAC play Saturday at CS Bakersfield. Winning there, miraculous comeback or otherwise, is a tall order. But there are plenty of wins to be had for Seattle, though none will likely be as thrilling as the most recent one.

And that’ll probably be the case for a long, long time.