Mark Twain once opined that there are three kinds of lies: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
UCSB basketball coach Joe Pasternack would add a fourth fib to the humorist’s list: Records.
The Gauchos will take a 13-3 mark tonight to UC Davis, which has mustered just a 4-12 record so far this season. UCSB’s start, which includes a pair of wins last week to open Big West Conference play, is its best since it went 15-1 to start the 1988-89 season.
The Aggies’ overall record of 4-12, meanwhile, is tied for the worst in the Big West, and they’ve lost five of their last six contests including their first two league games.
But a different truth lies beneath those records, leading Pasternack to believe that the Gauchos must be at their best tonight to pull out a road win against the defending Big West regular-season champion.
“We don’t have a margin of error,” he said. “Davis is an unbelievably well-coached team. They play incredibly hard, and we’re going to have to match their intensity to have a chance up there.”
Coach Jim Les returns nearly every key player from last year’s 22-11 Aggies. They include Big West Player of the Year T.J. Shorts, a dynamic, 5-foot-9, point guard who’s been averaging 14.9 points, 3.8 assists, and even 5.1 rebounds this season.
Davis has also played the nation’s 67th-toughest schedule, according to ESPN, while UCSB’s ranks at only No. 345. The Aggies led Indiana by as many points as 14 points in the second half before losing at the Hardwood Showcase in Bloomington, and they also lost at Arizona by just two points, 70-68.
Their Big West defeats so far have come on the road at league favorite UC Irvine in overtime, 71-69, and at Long Beach State, 82-77.
Davis has also been dealing with injuries to key players A.J. John, a 6-8 senior, and Stefan Gonzalez, a 6-2 transfer from Saint Mary’s. John has returned to the lineup, although, like UCSB all-leaguer Max Heidegger, is still trying to round into shape.
Several Aggies have been emerging in recent weeks, most prominently junior Joe Mooney, a 6-2 guard who made 10-of-16 three-pointers during last week’s road trip. He scored 14 points at Irvine and 29 at Long Beach. Siler Schneider, a 6-3 senior who averages 10.7 points, is also a deep threat.
But the key matchup tonight will be at point guard, where UCSB has more quickness with sophomore transfers Devearl Ramsey and JaQuori McLaughlin to deal with Shorts.
“Like coach says, every team is going to give us their best shot, and every team is good in this conference,” Ramsey said. “There’s no super-dominant team, and we know any team can beat us on any given night.
“We know that we’re going to have to play all 40 minutes and play really hard to get a win.”
Ramsey has averaged 19.5 points in UCSB’s two league games and 12.3 overall, along with 3.6 assists. McLaughlin is at 11.3 points and 3.5 assists. Ar’Mond Davis, a 6-6 graduate transfer from Alabama, leads the Gauchos in scoring at 13.9.
“Coach always says that we’ve got a lot of guys that can score the ball, so we never have to be in a panic or in a rush to score,” Ramsey said. “Once we move the ball, we’ve got a lot of options. That shows in the box score almost every game.”
A key tonight could be in the post, where 6-9 freshman Amadou Sow, whose up-and-down season has included games like his four-point, one-rebound league opener against Cal Poly and a 22-point, nine-rebound performance three nights later against UC Riverside. Sow averages 10.8 points and a team-best 6.3 rebounds on the season.
“He came here with that mentality and incredible motor, and I think he knows that rebounding is going to take him very far in the game of basketball,” Pasternack said. “He’s an excellent rebounder.
“The next phase for him is scoring. He’s really never had that role, to be a primary scorer. With us, we want him to score.”
Tonight’s game will be the start of a three-game road trip for UCSB. The Gauchos played five true road games and won just two of them, although they also went 2-0 on a neutral court in Boise, Idaho at the Vandal Holiday Hoops Showcase.
“We’re an inexperienced team that’s just getting better every single day,” Pasternack said. “We’re not blowing anybody out.
“Anybody in this league can beat us on any given night — the worst team, the second-to-worst team, it doesn’t matter.”