Flying tortillas nearly cost UC Santa Barbara

UC Santa Barbara fans taking in Tuesday's road game against San Diego caused a bizarre finish after deciding to revive a 1990s Gauchos tradition and hurl tortillas onto the court, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The Gauchos would win 65-61 but not before nearly being assessed a technical foul with 0.6 seconds left when, leading by two, yellow-clad fans sitting behind their bench revived the UCSB tradition of flinging tortillas onto the court to celebrate the impending victory.

The referees huddled while the USD coaches made their hands into a T and their UCSB counterparts scurried onto the court to confiscate the evidence. Their decision: Have the public address announcer merely issue a warning to the crowd instead of whistling a technical foul and setting up one of the most bizarre finishes in the history of college basketball.

"Silly," UCSB coach Bob Williams said, shaking his head. "No place for it."

Orlando Johnson had been fouled when it began raining tortillas, and he calmly made both free throws to ice a tougher-than-expected victory for a veteran Gauchos team that reached the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons.

Yes, flying corn tortillas causing technical fouls was once a regular occurrence for the crazy kids who attended games at UC Santa Barbara's Thunderdome. It used to be toilet paper that would be thrown, but then tortillas became easier to sneak past security.

The fans ate it up as they threw tortillas after the Gauchos' first points. The school eventually banned throwing them in the Thunderdome, and the coaches at times couldn't stomach it.

In 1997, UC Santa Barbara coach Jerry Pimm told the Los Angeles Times that "some of our students need to be better educated" after a Gauchos win in which they were assessed three technical fouls for tortilla-tossing.

As Pacific ran onto the court to warm-up, tortillas cascaded from the stands. Pacific guard Mark Boelter stepped to the line to shoot the technical shots, missed the first one and then out came more tortillas.

Pacific is the conference's top team and ESPN was in the house, so the excitement was understandable. To a point. Pimm was so embarrassed that he grabbed the public-address microphone and admonished the students.

He also pleaded with them to behave like adults or at least act the part until the game was over. It didn't work.

With Santa Barbara leading, 73-69, late in the game, more tortillas hit the court. Had one hit Pimm in the face, it might have caught fire.

"That really, really . . . let's just say it upset me," Pimm said, the anger still evident in his voice. "Our kids played so hard, with such great emotion, and that could have wound up costing us the game."

The tortillas could very well have on Tuesday had a technical foul been assessed, as San Diego might have been awarded two foul shots and the ball with time left on the clock.

But the Gauchos escaped with a win, and the tradition lives on. After all, UC Santa Barbara fans still regularly throw tortillas during soccer games when goals are scored.