Best of the Big West rookies battle tonight as hot-shooting CSUN comes to Thunderdome
The future is now in Big West Conference basketball, with freshmen making big impressions all throughout the league.
Two of those impact rookies will collide tonight at 7 p.m. when UCSB’s Amadou Sow faces Cal State Northridge’s Lamine Diane at the Thunderdome.
Sow, a 6-foot-9 forward, became the first true freshman to record a 20-point, 11-rebound game in Gaucho history while helping lead Saturday’s 75-54 win at Hawaii.
“I’ve coached a lot of freshmen – lottery picks, the No. 4 pick in the draft, the No. 8 pick in the draft – and he’s as good of a freshman, production-wise, that I have coached,” Gaucho coach Joe Pasternack said.
Sow is scoring 11.0 points per game on 56.9 percent shooting, third-best in the Big West, and also pulling down 6.5 rebounds, which ranks sixth.
“He just keeps getting better and better,” Pasternack said. “He’s reading double-teams very well and getting good position in the post, too.”
But Diane, a 6-7 forward, is one of only two players in the country to be averaging more than 24 points and 10 rebounds per game. CBSSports.com ranked him at No. 5 this week on its list of “Top 10 Freshman Performers.”
New Matador coach Mark Gottfried admitted to Mark Whicker of the Los Angeles Daily News that he “didn’t have any idea he’d be this effective.”
“He’s a quick, athletic guy – a hard guy to guard,” Gottfried said.
Diane ranks 10th nationally in scoring average (24.1 per game) and eighth in rebounding (11.0). He’s also blocked 50 shots, ranking 19th with an average of 2.27.
He set a CSUN record with a 39-point outburst at Cal State Fullerton on Wednesday, leading to his third Big West Player of the Week Award – the most ever won by a freshman – and National Freshman of the Week honors from the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.
He’s not the only freshman of influence for the Matadors, however. Darius Brown II, a 6-1 guard, leads the Big West in assists at 5.6 per game, ranking 39th nationally.
Brown pairs in the backcourt with Terrell Gomez, CSUN’s point guard of last season, who is second only to Diane in Big West scoring with an average of 19.5 points per game. He shoots 43.8 percent from the three-point line.
“Northridge’s offensive efficiency is No. 1 in our league, and they have what’s considered to be the best scoring and rebounding tandem in the league,” Pasternack said. “Gomez makes nearly 4-of-8 threes a game (3.5-for-8.0), which is something I’ve never seen.”
The Matadors’ team shooting percentages also rank nationally: 60th in field goals (.471) and 54th in three-pointers (.371). The Gauchos’ counter with a nationally ranked defense: 49th in field-goal percentage allowed (.408) and 10th in three-point defense (.288).
“We’re just going to have to have an incredible defensive effort to slow them down,” Pasternack said.
UCSB’s offense got a shot in the arm with Max Heidegger’s 20-point outburst atHawaii, which included 3-for-5 shooting from the three-point line. Heidegger, who has played only 10 games this year because of various injuries, had not made more than two threes in any previous game this season.
“I see it every day in practice,” Pasternack said of Heidegger’s accurate shooting. “Max is a great player, but it’s going to take a process for him to get back.
“He is getting better and better and back to himself. Whether that consistency happens in the month of February or March remains to be seen. But with every day that goes by, he gets better and better and more like who he is.”
CSUN (10-13, 4-3 Big West) looms just a game behind second-place UCSB (16-5, 5-2) in the league race, but Pasternack doesn’t spend time checking the Big West standings.
“That’ll make you crazy,” he said. “We’re 5-2 right now – seven games in with nine games to go. There’s so much basketball to be played, and all we can control is the process .
“There will be a couple of teams in the conference that get better in the next couple of months, but all we can control is getting better ourselves each day in practice and in each game.”